Teaching Marx to newbies, redux

by Chris Bertram on December 17, 2014

At a meeting on refugee rights the other night, one of the other activists asked me if I am a Marxist. “No,” I replied, “though I used to be.” I think the last time it was a vaguely accurate description of me was probably sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s. It is hard to be sure. Not that I mind being called one, or think that being one is something to be ashamed of. In fact, I felt slightly sorry to disappoint my interlocutor. But things are what they are. So despite there being an irritating buzzing noise somewhere on the interwebs telling the world that I am a “Western Marxist”, I’m afraid I have to disclaim the title.

Nearly six years ago, I wrote the following as a suggestion for how to explain Marx to people (students) who were coming to him cold:

> Suppose I were lecturing about Karl Marx: I’d do the same thing. I’d probably start by discussing some of the ideas in the Manifesto about the revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie, about their transformation of technology, social relations, and their creation of a global economy. Then I’d say something about Marx’s belief that, despite the appearance of freedom and equality, we live in a society where some people end up living off the toil of other people. How some people have little choice but to spend their whole lives working for the benefit of others, and how this compulsion stops them from living truly truly human lives. And then I’d talk about Marx’s belief that a capitalist society would eventually be replaced by a classless society run by all for the benefit of all. Naturally, I’d say something about the difficulties of that idea. I don’t think I’d go on about Pol Pot or Stalin, I don’t think I’d recycle the odd bon mot by Paul Samuelson, I don’t think I’d dismiss Hegel out of hand, and I don’t think I’d contrast modes of production with Weberian modes of domination (unless I was confident, as I wouldn’t be, that my audience already had some sense of those concepts).

Thinking about the matter again, I think I’d stick to those themes. Of course, then there’s the question of which texts would best illustrate those themes. It seems that some people believe those themes are best illustrated by looking at Marx’s early writings and that to do so would necessarily involve a distortion of Marx’s career bu concentrating on early texts. I don’t see it myself. When Corey Robin, Alex Gourevitch and I were thinking about freedom and the workplace, a central text for us was the chapter on the buying and selling of labour power, from volume 1 of *Capital*, you know, the one about “the exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.” Thinking about human nature, work under capitalism, and its contrast with truly human work, I’d be sure to look at “The Results of the Immediate Process of Production” (included as an appendix to the Penguin edition of volume one of *Capital*). And central to explaining the importance of Marx *to students of contemporary political philosophy* would be the *Critique of the Gotha Programme*. Of course the themes you’d focus on and the texts you use are inevitably shaped by what you’re trying to achieve, the audience you’re addressing and similar matters. A comprehensive survey of Marx’s work, such as the two-year-long course Jerry Cohen ran in the mid 1980s at UCL (and which I was lucky enough to attend) would have a very different content to a taster course aimed at newbies.

{ 776 comments }

1

Brett Bellmore 12.17.14 at 11:50 am

“Not that I mind being called one, or think that being one is something to be ashamed of. ”

Way to indict yourself in the first paragraph. You OUGHT to mind being called a Marxist, and be ashamed of having been one, after the 20th century. And, why not ” go on about Pol Pot or Stalin”; Might as well talk about fascism without going on about Hitler and Mussolini.

No need to get into the little matter of death camps and genocide? No, I think there is every need.

2

Ondrej P. 12.17.14 at 12:37 pm

Sorry, where does Marx advocate death camps and genocide?

3

Jacob T. Levy 12.17.14 at 12:59 pm

I would very much mind being called a Marxist (not that I could easily imagine anyone doing so)– but when I teach *Marx* I think it’s very important to teach the 19th century, not the 20th. I *mention* the 20th, but there are ideas in there worth wrestling with, and that’s the reason to teach the work. Wrestling with the ideas is almost always impeded by thinking too much about what came later. It is usually an obstacle to engaging with important texts and their ideas to have Rousseau-Robespierre, Locke-genocide and expropriation of Indians, Locke-Jefferson, Augustine-Crusades, Kant-Rawls, Locke-Nozick, Marx-Lenin, Marx-Stalin, Machiavelli-Richelieu, Smith-19th century industrialism, Montesquieu-Angell, etc., etc., front and center in students’ minds. If the authors are worth teaching and thinking about– and Marx is one of those who is– then they’re worth the effort of teaching and thinking about without the fog of later history obscuring their ideas.

(My core teaching texts are On the Jewish Question, Critique of the Gotha Program, 18th Brumaire, and the Manifesto, though under the influence of my colleague Will Roberts’ work on Capital I’m planning to approach it with fresh eyes and try to get enough in control of it to add it to my teaching repertoire.)

4

J Thomas 12.17.14 at 1:05 pm

#1 BB

I’m starting to get bored responding to you but this once….

Similarly people ought to be ashamed of being called Christians, and any discussion about Jesus’s ideas should concentrate heavily on Savanarola and witch hunts, the Crusades, the destruction of the Cathars, and Jerry Falwell.

Any discussion of Thomas Jefferson or democracy should focus heavily on slavery and the Civil War (which demonstrated that democracy is both compatible and incompatible with slavery, and so people who believed in democracy slaughtered each other in large numbers), on the Drug War and Waco etc. Because everything the US government has ever done wrong is because of Jefferson and democracy.

Any discussion of Adam Smith’s ideas should put a lot of emphasis on the British Foreclosures, the Irish starvation of 1848, the Great Depression, and the events of 2007-8, all of which are due entirely to his followers.

Etc.

5

Chris Bertram 12.17.14 at 1:25 pm

I think you’re done in this thread Brett Bellmore. Think of it as my personal contribution to totalitarianism and censorship.

6

Metatone 12.17.14 at 1:42 pm

My experiences in a different field are that whenever you teach “tasters” for people with no background in the field you very often end up with some distortion. The limits of time and thinking space mean that some important things have to be pointed to. The more interested students will grapple with them, but the rest – well, you just hope that they remember all the times you said “health warning on this, it’s useful, but wrong in important ways.”

Now it doesn’t have to be that way, IME, but fixing it invariably means fixing the student pathway/curriculum arc – and as an adjunct that’s rarely something people in charge of such things want to involve me in.

7

Phil Koop 12.17.14 at 1:46 pm

#1

Oh, quite! And how hypocritical it is to discuss Don Quixote without mentioning its famous author, Pierre Menard.

8

Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.17.14 at 1:47 pm

I’d be happy to be called a “Marxist,” as a considerable portion (hence not all) of my worldview is accurately captured by Marxist ideas, ideas I more or less subscribe to after my own attempt (one that is ongoing) to assess what is living and what is dead in the Marxist corpus. And I feel no compulsion to explain or apologize for the behavior of a Stalin or Pol Pot, much like my Christian friends on the Left feel no obligation to defend the Crusades or the Inquisition. More than a few Buddhists I know have spoken out vigorously against attempts by self-described Buddhists in Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka to use their Buddhist worldview as a warrant for collective violence against other ethnic and religious groups. And they too are under no obligation to defend warrior traditions that became wedded to Zen or the violent behavior of some Tibetan monastic orders in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Similarly, Bentham need not be blamed for how British imperialists used Benthamite imperialism (along with a Burkean doctrine of trusteeship) as a partial “justification of and as practical basis of imperial rule.” And neither me nor my Christian friends on the Left have succumbed to apocalyptic faith or inherited a messianic mantle, nor are we concerned at all about the pursuit of ideological and doctrinal purity: “One’s accountability should be restricted to the practices that one’s own beliefs and commitments entail, not to the excesses of others.” And I trust those who are neither Christian nor Marxist can nonetheless “readily acknowledge Christ and Marx as ill-served benefactors of humanity.” As one of my former teachers correctly observed, “The search for scapegoats whose crucifixion can atone for monstrous systems of error and evil is itself based…on an unduly rationalistic faith in the influence of theory and on an absurdly simple view of both individual and national character.” Theories that we’ve found, for one reason or another, peculiarly vulnerable to distortion or exploitation does not mean their authors are thereby responsible “for what they neither could have visualized nor intended in all its implications.”

9

Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.17.14 at 1:50 pm

I should have written “how British imperialists used Benthamite utilitarianism….”

10

J Thomas 12.17.14 at 2:07 pm

Now that we’ve beaten this dead horse into a thin paste and the horsethief who dragged it here is gone, does anybody have more ideas about what to teach in a quick introductory survey on Marx?

11

Theobald Schmidt 12.17.14 at 2:20 pm

Brad DeLong has a good reading list at
http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2014/12/2014-12-18-th-oaeg-atwm-reading-about-marx-thursday-virtual-office-hours.html.

OP is, of course, snotty about being accurately described, so refuses to link to the post like a six-year-old.

12

Matt 12.17.14 at 2:20 pm

Robert Paul Wolff, who does describe himself as Marxist of sorts and who has a particular take on him (I don’t know enough to judge it well myself) is teaching a class on Marx this coming spring semester, either at Duke or UNC. He’s been talking a bit about it on his blog, and posted a syllabus with a bit of discussion here . It looks like pretty heavy going to me, but I think it is supposed to be for people without much experience with Marx. (Wolff’s own books on Marx are now available in very inexpensive e-book versions, with links, I think, from his blog, if people are interested in those.)

13

jdkbrown 12.17.14 at 2:25 pm

The last couple of years I’ve been teaching a Freshman seminar on the good life, and when we discuss the role of work, I have them read the alienated labor section from Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. It’s gone over very well: the students find it accessible (well, once you explain to them what “species being” is!), and some get pretty excited by it. As far as I can tell, all of them come away with a pretty good understanding of how and why Marx thinks that labor under capitalism prevents many people from living fully human lives.

14

Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.17.14 at 2:26 pm

I’ve not had the opportunity to teach Marx, but if the course was for undergraduates, I’d use Jon Elster’s An Introduction to Karl Marx (1986) and/or Jonathan Wolff’s Why Read Marx Today? (2002) in conjunction with a one-volume selection of Marx’s writings edited by either David McLellan or Jon Elster. As to what to focus on, I suppose that should be left to the discretion and good judgment of the instructor.

15

Russell Arben Fox 12.17.14 at 2:38 pm

When I teach Marx (which isn’t often), I try to do so very much with Jacob Levy (#3)’s admonition in mind: the ideas are worth struggling with themselves, and if you set up those ideas in such a way as to directly connect them with state socialism and Soviet and Maoist totalitarianism from the beginning, then there’s almost no way any serious engagement with what Marx actually wrote will take place. So, no, you do not deny how Marx was used, but also, no, you do not serve either the history of ideas or your own students well but introducing Marx from the get-go as a thinker of tyranny.

As for texts, I’m very much an early, Hegelian Marx type of guy, and so the only essentials for introducing Marx, as far as I’m concerned, are “The Jewish Question” and the Manifesto. I have occasionally brought in parts of Gotha Programme, but I’ve never tried to do anything out of Kapital, and I don’t think that’s been much of a loss. Patrick O’Donnell’s (#14) recommendation of the Wolff book is also a good idea.

As for myself, I don’t introduce myself as a Marxist, and when someone calls me that I insist on qualification and elaboration, but I admit that “Marxist” sometimes is a useful, if not especially accurate, shorthand for “structurally-minded, anarcho-socialist, egalitarian populist democrat,” so the label doesn’t offend me much.

16

mdc 12.17.14 at 2:41 pm

I’ve done German Ideology, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, and big chunks of Capital, v 1 several times. I’ve also done the Manifesto, which doesn’t work as well in class, I’ve found.

The big question for me is whether it’s worth subjecting students to the technical material in Capital. It’s good for them to see that lofty speculations about species-being might be connected to rigorous analysis of how the world works, even if they have trouble following the latter. On the other hand, maybe Capital is so numbing that too many of them simply tune out. (I also think the Marx-hatred they pick up from the ether is a pedagogical challenge. Reading Capital at least makes them see that “the bad guy” has real arguments that respond to real puzzles.)

17

Brett Bellmore 12.17.14 at 3:12 pm

“I think you’re done in this thread Brett Bellmore.”

Had to be said, before you got on with discussing Marxism as though there were no piles of skulls, but it only needed to be said the once, so I really don’t have anything to contribute to this thread.

So, no problemo.

18

Rob 12.17.14 at 3:14 pm

I tend to agree with Bertram’s choices and J. Levy’s (#3) selections because it is easier to get undergrads excited about that material. But it seems to me that Capital remains highly relevant and even more compelling than the earlier hits; there are just massive barriers to teaching it in a survey course.

Then again, it’s the same for other great economic thinkers. When teaching undergrads, which bits of Smith’s WN do you like to offer?

On a side note (to#3), Locke and expropriating Indians is not like the other examples of a thinker unjustly associated with a future atrocity or intellectual movement.

19

Henry 12.17.14 at 3:17 pm

OP is, of course, snotty about being accurately described, so refuses to link to the post like a six-year-old.

OP, more plausibly, has had to deal with what can only be described as an obsession on the part of Brad DeLong who has, over the last number of years, written a series of posts that suggest that BdL is simply incapable of reading OP’s posts in a rational way, leading him to make some quite extraordinary claims. OP is very plausibly trying to defend himself while not getting sucked back into a direct confrontation with someone who has repeatedly behaved very badly indeed towards him on the Internet.

“Theobald Schmitt”/”Theobald Smith” is reminded of Crooked Timber’s comments policy, which inter alia requires that:

Commenters should normally provide a valid, working email address. Such addresses are only visible to members of the CT collective (and not to casual readers). Commenters who provide addresses like noone@nowhere.net may find their comments deleted without warning.

Should “Schmitt”/”Smith” continue to comment without providing such an email address, he (and I strongly suspect it is a ‘he’) will indeed find his future comments being deleted.

20

Anon 12.17.14 at 3:24 pm

When I teach Marx, I usually start by pointing out that one can agree with most of his major claims and still reject socialism and communism. In explaining this, I emphasize the distinction between critical, economic claims and his positive, political claims and point out that most of his work is devoted to the former. I exaggerate this for effect by announcing Marx has no “political philosophy” (in the usual sense), throwing in the “recipes for cookshops” line. I sum it up by saying you don’t have to be a Marxist to appreciate Marx–even Marx wasn’t one, throwing in his “I’m not a Marxist” line. I conclude “Marxist” is, like all “isms,” confusing and relatively meaningless, and suggest “Marxian” instead.

I also clarify very early on the difference between socialism and communism, emphasizing the (ideal) withering of the state, and the distinction between utopian and scientific socialism, pointing out that the standard conception of “communism” falls very clearly into the former, particularly in its deduction of political philosophy from idealist moral philosophy.

Along the way, I like to emphasize that Marx’s critique of capitalism is not really a moral critique: it is fundamentally descriptive and predictive, not prescriptive, and even its most morally loaded language, like “exploitation,” is at bottom, primarily descriptive. I add that like a good non-moralistic materialist, his critique is structural not individual, requiring no direct implication of moral blame toward the bourgeoisie.

As for readings, my students always respond enthusastically to “Alienated Labor,” even the ones most skeptical of Marx. (It helps if you have, as I do, students who come from less privileged backgrounds or are older than traditional students, who have substantial life experience of the topic.)

I’ve also always had good responses to the Manifesto, so I’m surprised by suggestions that it doesn’t work in class. (When teaching it, I like to exaggerate for effect again, announcing that it primarily a celebration of capitalism and only secondarily a critique, criticizing it only for eventually getting in the way of its own best characteristics: moral, cultural, and technological innovation and freedom.)

I once tried using Engels’ “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” instead of the Manifesto, since it covers the same ground in what seems to me a more straightforward, clear way. But it didn’t go over as well.

I usually include a very small snippet of Capital, “On Wage Labor and Capital,” which is brief and simple enough to not intimidate the students too much.

I also usually start with a little piece from the early Marx like “For a Ruthless Critique of Everything” in order to early on remove from their minds the vision of Marx as dogmatic ideologue.

21

Anarcissie 12.17.14 at 3:29 pm

The first thing I would do is distinguish between the different constructions of Marx and his work. That is, the different prevailing major constructions. These must be wide-ranging, for even I have been called a ‘Marxist’, which is pretty funny. Outside the realm of humor, I’ve encountered a number of seemingly serious one-volume or less-than-one-volume considerations of the subject(s), such as Michael Harrington’s in Socialism (now doubtless out of print and in the black hole of modern copyright, but used copies are around).

22

MPAVictoria 12.17.14 at 3:43 pm

“These must be wide-ranging, for even I have been called a ‘Marxist’, which is pretty funny.”

On the internet anyone to the left of Dick Cheney gets called a Marxist eventually….

23

Henry 12.17.14 at 3:44 pm

I should maybe add that the actual differences between BdL and CB on questions of economic politics are real, but not that enormous. BdL is a partially repentant neo-liberal economist who is highly skeptical of the left, but appears to have left some of his ideological baggage behind post-2008. CB is a former Marxist who was and is highly skeptical of neo-liberal economics, but also interested in aspects of left thinking (e.g. analytic Marxism, which are not a million miles from economic reasoning). This is not an actual intellectual argument, but the relicts of a personal spat from several years ago, which has since degenerated into an entirely one sided grudge match on BdL’s part.

24

mattski 12.17.14 at 3:46 pm

I appreciate the nuance of #3 and #20. And particularly this,

When I teach Marx, I usually start by pointing out that one can agree with most of his major claims and still reject socialism and communism. In explaining this, I emphasize the distinction between critical, economic claims and his positive, political claims and point out that most of his work is devoted to the former.

25

MPAVictoria 12.17.14 at 3:51 pm

Holy Crap. The US is moving to normalize relations with Cuba!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/17/us-cuba-talks_n_6340468.html

Republicans are going to shit a brick.

/Anyone feel like a cigar?

26

William Timberman 12.17.14 at 4:20 pm

Henry @ 23

Your account seems a fair-minded and accurate description of the dispute, although I wasn’t around at the beginning of it. From personal experience, though, I’d say that it takes no more than a moment’s inattention to get on Brad DeLong’s bad side. And peace-loving theorists be warned: he likes to crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and hear the lamentations of their women.

27

CJColucci 12.17.14 at 4:36 pm

I really don’t have anything to contribute to this thread.

Came to that realization a post late, I’d say.

28

bianca steele 12.17.14 at 4:39 pm

It’s interesting (not to get on my hobbyhorse) that most of the people responding to Chris are American or Canadian. From my years reading the CT comments section, I’ve gathered that the taboo on taking Marx seriously in non-political, non-safely-historical courses is North American only. So a good number of discussions seem to devolve to Brits complaining that Yanks don’t really know what they’re talking about when they talk about Marx, or that we don’t know what we’re talking about when we leave Marx out of the discussion, or stuff along those lines. These aren’t accusations from Marxists that the people they’re discussing with aren’t Marxists and should be. It’s a barrier to agreement, however. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this.

29

Rich Puchalsky 12.17.14 at 4:44 pm

If someone wants to include a 19th century critique of Marx’s ideas that anticipates later critiques without anachronism, they might want to include a little bit of Bakunin. The advantage is that Bakunin argued with the actual Marx, not with Marxists; the disadvantage is that Bakunin was notoriously bad at producing finished texts.

30

Rob 12.17.14 at 4:46 pm

By the way, I recall in grad school a fellow student (now a tenured prof) manically waving around the Marx- Engels Reader hollering (without irony) ‘the colour of blood! the colour of blood!’
That’s probably a poor approach to teaching Marx, though it might make his thought popular with undergrads.

31

bianca steele 12.17.14 at 4:49 pm

In the Western-thought survey course where I was assigned Marx, in college (he was probably on the syllabus for Sociology I, as well), the professor lamented that Marx, without whom all of modern social science would be unthinkable, had been “hijacked” for political purposes. But to pretend that hadn’t happened would be counterproductive.

32

William Timberman 12.17.14 at 4:50 pm

bianca steele @ 28

I don’t know about Canada, but in the U.S., we’re taught from early on not to say Marx, the instruments of pedagogy ranging from sneers to denial of tenure to death threats — just as we’re now being taught not to say Palestinians, or torture. No wonder Europeans laugh at us, even as their governments for the most part look the other way. Seen from the outside, it must be an amusing spectacle. Living through it, though, hasn’t been funny at all.

33

Watson Ladd 12.17.14 at 5:06 pm

As someone taught Marx by Postone, I’ve got to push back hard on this. Marxism is all about human freedom: the Hegalism is crucial, and there is no early/late split. The best writers about this are from the Second International, which OP dismisses as necessary to understand Marx.

Marx was a revolutionary. The whole point of Marxism was 1917. Missing even from the economic discussion above is socially necessary labor time, the class struggle as originating in production, the anarchist-Marxist split, the nature of social domination, etc.

The idea that we can talk about Marx without revolution is as nuts as thinking we can talk about Hobbes without Charles I, or Locke without 1668.

34

J Thomas 12.17.14 at 5:14 pm

#27 CJColucci

“I really don’t have anything to contribute to this thread.”

Came to that realization a post late, I’d say.

Two posts late if you count the one where he announced he had nothing to announce.

35

Salem 12.17.14 at 5:22 pm

I think you mean 1688, unless you think that Locke was substantially inspired by the Buckingham-Shrewsbury duel, or the birth of John Eccles.

36

Alex K. 12.17.14 at 5:22 pm

I disagree with Jacob Levy @3 (and possibly most others in this thread)

What are the reasons to be interested (to the extent that academia was interested) in that 19th century writer if one ignores the link to any revolutionary projects? “Alienation of labor” was done before, materialism was done better before, for better or worse Hegelian dialectic was done before and “dialectical materialism” only adds incoherence to the already dubious “dialectics” concept.

And if the link to revolutionary projects is crucial for the interest in Marx, then why ignore what seems to be the inevitable result of socialist revolutionary projects?

On the other hand, it’s not hard to find reasons to be interested in Locke, Kant, Christianity etc., for reason that have nothing to do with particular historical episodes that have some connection with those ideas.

I can understand some contingent pedagogical reasons for ignoring Stalin&co in teaching Marx: students already come with preconceptions regarding Marx, so staying away from Stalin&co is a good corrective. But that’s different from saying that Marx deserves attention the extent that he gets it regardless of his link to historical socialist revolutionary projects.

37

Watson Ladd 12.17.14 at 5:32 pm

Alex K. Marx is the best of the Young Hegalians. His account of social domination as originating from control of the means of labor, the account of human nature, the comparative newness of capitalism, recognition of social transformation with industrialism. Smith imagines a society of eternal trade, with no industry beyond specialization: he doesn’t know the power loom.

A lot of this interest in academia has to do with Adorno and the Frankfurt School’s Marxism. It’s not entirely separate from the political legacy, but distinguishable enough to probably be an answer to your question.

Salem, you are correct. I did mean 1688

38

Phil 12.17.14 at 5:38 pm

I teach Marx (very briefly and rather impressionistically) as a key articulator of the second wave of the long democratic revolution – the one that started in 1647 and hasn’t triumphed yet. I also call myself a Marxist, although not unless someone asks. (Tendance Debord, with a touch of Williams – same as it ever was.)

Ralph Miliband:

Socialism itself must be viewed as part of a democratic movement which long antedates it, but to which socialism alone can give its full meaning.

in 1848, [Alexis de Tocqueville] asked: “Does anyone imagine that Democracy, which has destroyed the feudal system and vanquished kings, will fall back before the middle classes and the rich?” Dominant classes in all capitalist countries have ever since the nineteenth century fought hard and with a considerable measure of success to falsify de Tocqueville’s prediction: socialism is the name of the struggle to make it come true.

39

bianca steele 12.17.14 at 5:39 pm

Also, I had The German Ideology assigned for a History of Science/STS course, though probably not read in the ordinary way, as the readings included Thomas More, Condorcet, and Mary Shelley, none of them known for being among the great political thinkers. I don’t remember how Marx fit into the class, after so many years, but then I don’t remember quite how Hobbes fitted into it either.

40

Robert 12.17.14 at 5:40 pm

So does anybody thinks it’s appropriate to mention Schumpeter, who admired Marx’s analysis, but happened to reverse the values? I suppose if you did, you might mention that there’s been a revolution in our understanding of Classical and Marxian economics since then, following on Sraffa’s scholarship.

41

bob mcmanus 12.17.14 at 5:46 pm

To have given clear and unified answers in familiar empirical terms to those theoretical questions which most occupied men’s minds at the time, and to have deduced from them clear practical directives without creating obviously artificial links between the two, was the principle achievement of Marx’s theory. The sociological treatment of historical and moral problems, which Comte and after him, Spencer and Taine, had discussed and mapped, became a precise and concrete study only when the attack of militant Marxism made its conclusions a burning issue, and so made the search for evidence more zealous and the attention to method more intense.[25]

—Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment 1937

Marx is to all of the social sciences as Newton is to physics or Descartes/Leibniz are to calculus. The difference between Comte/Spencer and Weber/Durkheim, to mention only one discipline, is Marx and the difference between speculative philosophy and empirical science in social being. Which was his point.

I am not sure we can teach Marx anymore, he has become immanent. I don’t think we need to.

(I glanced around, but couldn’t find a quick answer. Was Conditions of the Working Class in England a very important early work of observational sociology?)

Now back to Appadurai, Sennett, Arrighi, and Asian Film studies based on conditions of transnational production.)

42

bob mcmanus 12.17.14 at 6:13 pm

By “immanent” I mean that Marx so produced and was a product of his/our times, Marsx so nailed them and was so nailed to them that what he got right is now taken for granted and invisible and we mostly work around what he got wrong to see if inspiration might be found there. Opposition to Marx is a driving force of history.

A parallel example would be saying that “Character and virtue are willed, and social conditions and personal history are irrelevant.” That at one time, was possible to say. No more, but mention Freud, and you get massive pushback.

“Times create the man” Marx reflected his dynamic environment, the rise of bourgeois social-democratic capitalism, and really can’t be separated out from them. This is also historical materialism, that is, Marxian.

43

Corey Robin 12.17.14 at 6:40 pm

33: “The idea that we can talk about Marx without revolution is as nuts as thinking we can talk about Hobbes without Charles I, or Locke without 1668 [sic].”

Even with your subsequent correction to 1688, these are not especially good choices for your analogy.

The most influential interpretation of Locke over the last half-century places the critical moment of his political intervention (and target) as the Exclusion Crisis, which occurred between 1679-1681, and dates the writing of his Second Treatise to well before the Glorious Revolution of 1688. That interpretation might be wrong, but as I said, it’s probably the most influential. Not that influential interpretations can’t be nuts, but that one has some empirical data working for it.

Likewise for Hobbes: Quentin Skinner — in, again, probably the most influential interpretation of the last half-century — locates Hobbes’s moment and target and context as the Engagement Controversy, when former loyalists to Charles I were asked to give up their allegiances and submit to Cromwell. In Skinner’s interpretation, the whole point of Leviathan is that English subjects are now obligated to swear loyalty to Cromwell. Charles I is really neither here nor there. And certainly when Hobbes says that the sovereign can be a monarchy or a democratic assembly (though he prefers a monarchy), that kind of undercuts the “this is all about Charles I” argument.

44

Watson Ladd 12.17.14 at 7:19 pm

And what do you think the Grand Old Cause was all about? 1688 is the continuation of a struggle begun against Charles I. Dating the Second Treatise to 1671 doesn’t make Whigs and their leaders dissappear. Locke was the clearest exponent of bourgeois revolution in England, regardless of his works appearing before or after particular events. There is a historical continuity and ideological continuity to be dealt with. One sees the image of Locke and Rousseau in Jefferson, some half century later.

45

Peter Dorman 12.17.14 at 7:21 pm

This is an interesting and useful thread for me, since I too teach Marx fairly regularly. I usually have at most a week or two to introduce him; sometimes it’s just a guest lecture in a colleague’s course. I’ve thought a lot about what is truly central to Marxian thought, enough to get students going in a reasonable direction. Of course, the “center” shifts, depending on the context. If Marx is surrounded by contemporary economics, that’s one thing. If it’s history, another. Political ecology? Cultural studies? International relations?

I originally came to Marx long ago, through Hegel. Marx’s attempt to wed science and empiricism (materialism) and therefore controllability to a deep conception of inner freedom seemed to me to be his primary attraction. The illusion that these strands can truly be fused is the source of much of his error. (Bakunin said this too in his own brilliant/sloppy way.) I do believe the disasters of the 20th century are relevant, because their explanation, in part, takes us back to this same hubris.

But Marx the historian was stupendous. I agree with other comments that recommend historical writings. My favorite, FWIW, is his discussion in capital on the transformation of work during the industrial revolution. Always ahead of his time, Marx even anticipated in some ways the recent interest in “industrious” revolutions. And he has the critique as well as the observation. What I say in every introduction to Marx, whatever the context, is that he gave the better part of his life to a deep, solitary study of British history from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, and the closer any topic is in space and time to that place and era, the better his theory works. A large part of British historiography since then is a dialogue with Marx.

However, I agree with Brad DeLong that Marx’s life project was to locate the dialectic he signed on to as a young man in economics, to create an analysis that was simultaneously economically precise (with whatever algebra he could muster), empirically supported and expressive of his philosophical commitments. But as economics it lives or dies by its economic validity. Sraffa has been brought into this thread, and I agree. The refutation of the falling-profit-rate hypothesis is critical, in my opinion. (Okishio.) This despite many fine insights Marx generated along the way. The bottom line: whatever else I say about Marx, I always say that he believed he had uncovered the central economic contradiction of capitalism, which was equally the expression of its contradictory role as a moment in the dialectical unfolding of human possibility, and he was wrong.

From an intellectual point of view, Marx’s great weakness was his isolation. He tested his ideas against Engels, but hardly at all against any other thinker. He didn’t publish enough during his lifetime to get responses from other serious, powerful minds. This exposed him to embarrassing error, which sits side by side with dazzling brilliance. Students should understand that not responding to Marx about X says little about what they will get from Y—even though Marxism presents itself as an integrated system. Just about everything he wrote is worth reading for something.

46

LFC 12.17.14 at 7:25 pm

From the OP:
“central to explaining the importance of Marx to students of contemporary political philosophy would be the Critique of the Gotha Programme [italics in original]”

I could write a comment about this based on what I remember of CGP, but it would probably be better if I re-read the whole thing first — which I’m too lazy and otherwise occupied to do right now. So in lieu of that, perhaps I could ask CB if he would elaborate on the above. (He may say it’s not possible to do that in a comment box, which I’ll understand.) My recollection is that there has been some discussion of CGP in one or two previous threads here, but I don’t recall CB’s precise take on it (though I do recall him quoting the passage about the distribution of income being a function of the mode of production). Perhaps I should just Google the earlier discussion.

47

GHG 12.17.14 at 7:25 pm

I teach about two or three weeks of Marx in an “Intro to Sociological Theory” course, every year (for about 10 years), and I’ve also taught (once) a third-year course on “Marx and Social Theory”. The third year course was, as noted in comment 14, based around Wolf’s “Why Read Marx Today?” and McLellan’s collection. Marx readings were split into:
“Marx the humanist”: Theses on Feuerbach, On the Jewish Question, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts;
“Marx the historian and revolutionary”: The German Ideology, the Manifesto, The Eighteenth Brumaire;
“Marx the economist”: Preface to Critique of Political Economy, Capital vol 1
Then we looked at a few branches: Hartmann’s “Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism,” Gramsci, Raymond Williams, David Harvey. Good times!

48

Rakesh 12.17.14 at 7:32 pm

I would not focus on the distinction between formal and real subsumption in the Immediate Process of Production at the expense of the much richer empirical and theoretically precise analysis in Capital proper of absolute and relative surplus value in relation to the historic transformation from manufacture to machino-facture. From a pedagogical point of view, I don’t see how students would make sense of this as anything but an appendix to the work proper. But I am interested in why you would swap out the chapters in the main text for the appendix never prepared for publication–perhaps for good reason you see great value in the discussion of productive and unproductive labor?

Nor would I leave out the chapter on the struggle for the working day. Or Marx’s analysis of production price or the falling rate of profit or critique of the trinity formula.

If students do not understand why for Marx it’s objectively illusory that the best way to raise profit is to mechanize, though the result of mechanization is in actuality to exert downward pressure on the general rate of profit, they simply have not understood Marx as he understood himself–the Galileo of the social science of capitalism

So here is a crucial paragraph from this ninth
chapter in Capital, vol 3 which begins his explanation for why the rate of profit will tend to fall as well as for why such a tendency cannot be but a mystery to the practical consciousness.

Remarkable that Marx grants that what actors may rightly believe may still be (apparently paradoxically) false or misleadingly true for the social scientist who grasps the interrelations of the totality. It’s a bit more than the application of the fallacy of composition to the practical reasoning of an individual capitalist.

In fact I would not consider anyone to have understood Marx unless s/he can explain this passage and how it figures into his analysis of the law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall.

As Peter Dorman just suggested, the Okishio Theorem may well show that Marx was wrong in the following passage or specify the strict conditions under which he would be right (real wage allowed to rise, unit values of outputs have to lower than unit values of inputs) , but that shows the historic importance of formalizing Marx’s arguments and evaluating them.

Here’s the passage:

The theoretical conception concerning the first
transformation of surplus-value into profit, that
every part of a capital yields a uniform profit,
expresses a practical fact. Whatever the
composition of an industrial capital, whether it
sets in motion one quarter of congealed labour
and three-quarters of living labour, or
three-quarters of congealed labour and
one-quarter of living labour, whether in one case
it absorbs three times as much surplus-labour, or
produces three times as much surplus-value than
in another – in either case it yields the same
profit, given the same degree of labour
exploitation and leaving aside individual
differences, which, incidentally, disappear
because we are dealing in both cases with the
average composition of the entire sphere of
production. The individual capitalist (or all the
capitalists in each individual sphere of
production), whose outlook is limited, rightly
believes that his profit is not derived solely
from the labour employed by him, or in his line
of production. This is quite true, as far as his
average profit is concerned. To what extent this
profit is due to the aggregate exploitation of
labour on the part of the total social capital,
i. e., by all his capitalist colleagues – this
interrelation is a complete mystery to the
individual capitalist; all the more so, since no
bourgeois theorists, the political economists,
have so far revealed it. A saving of labour – not
only labour necessary to produce a certain
product, but also the number of employed
labourers – and the employment of more congealed
labour (constant capital), appear to be very
sound operations from the economic standpoint and
do not seem to exert the least influence on the
general rate of profit and the average profit.
How could living labour be the sole source of
profit, in view of the fact that a reduction in
the quantity of labour required for production
appears not to exert any influence on profit?
Moreover, it even seems in certain circumstances
to be the nearest source of an increase of
profits, at least for the individual capitalist.”

49

Adam Roberts 12.17.14 at 7:46 pm

Thirty Seconds To Marx

50

LFC 12.17.14 at 8:19 pm

I agree with parts (not necessarily all) of Peter Dorman’s thoughtful comment @45, and this in particular sounds pretty right:

he gave the better part of his life to a deep, solitary study of British history from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, and the closer any topic is in space and time to that place and era, the better his theory works. A large part of British historiography since then is a dialogue with Marx.

That said, the 18th Brumaire (inspired of course by events in France not Britain) is great as a piece of writing (putting aside how accurate it is as history, which I’m not sure about); while The Civil War in France I read many years ago and remember virtually nothing about, unfortunately.

51

bob mcmanus 12.17.14 at 9:07 pm

Dorman and others were good, Rakesh was inspirational.

as well as for why such a tendency cannot be but a mystery to the practical consciousness.

Remarkable that Marx grants that what actors may rightly believe may still be (apparently paradoxically) false or misleadingly true for the social scientist who grasps the interrelations of the totality. It’s a bit more than the application of the fallacy of composition to the practical reasoning of an individual capitalist.

I have been accused at CT of methodological obscurantism.

Spent about an hour googling “Okishio’s theorem”, found a longish thread with Rakesh, Kliman I think, other names I recognize. Visited Michael D Roberts. Not going to worry about it. I actually did read Carchedi, apparently with little utility gained. Just some reassurance.

I have read a great deal of Marx, but I would still contend that with a short life or period of study, that Marx is better served by reading the “secondary material,” (as if Hilferding or Lukacs or Hobsbawm are minor writers) and so seeing the 150 year social conversation that Marx generated and is still generating.

So, although I am far from a teacher, I might like a course that took material that students were already familiar with and excavate the Marx from within it. Your pick, as Dorman hints in his first paragraph.

52

Louis Proyect 12.17.14 at 9:10 pm

I organized an “Introduction to Marxism” class on Yahoo at:

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/marxism_class/conversations/messages

At some point I will be making a documentary to help people understand Marxism. I don’t think the average young activist will get much from a college lecture on Marxism, especially when the professor is anti-Marxist. That’s just my opinion.

53

stevenjohnson 12.17.14 at 9:46 pm

I don’t understand why the Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy isn’t on the short list, nor Theses on Feuerbach (both versions.) Of course I agree with the inclusion of the Manifesto and the Critique of the Gotha Program. I think Civil War in France and Eighteenth Brumaire might round off the essential introductory Marx reading list. Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State might be optional. It might be by Engels but it rather clearly shows the determination to draw from the best empirical knowledge available, something commonly asserted to be untrue of Marxism.

The thing is, I’m not at all convinced that a Marx reading list is all that it takes to understand Marx. It’s not like Marx invented revolution in the British Museum reading room. Nor did he invent the Enlightenment. I don’t see how you could understand Marx absent some knowledge of British Chartism and Saint Simon and Fourier and Guizot and Adam Ferguson and John Millar as well as Feuerbach. And in particular, I don’t think Marx and Marxism can be understood apart from the failure of the revolutions of 1848. In particular, evaluations of Marxism that assume the painless inevitable triumph of democracy (despite any number of aberrations,) are wholly ideological, in the pejorative sense.

54

Collin Street 12.17.14 at 9:51 pm

My experiences in a different field are that whenever you teach “tasters” for people with no background in the field you very often end up with some distortion.

People write lengthy books precisely because their position cannot be encompassed in a paragraph, or a short lecture series. Presumably students know this anyway; they can’t expect that the greatest minds of all time wrote verbiage that was 99% superfluous, surely.

[as a badly-read autodidact I have no real comment on the main thrust, mind, but reading with interest.]

55

stevenjohnson 12.17.14 at 9:52 pm

PS As to Marx on economics, maybe Value, Price and Profit contrasted to selections from Smith and Ricardo; Henry George and Rodbertus; Menger and Jevons would set his work into contrast.

Second PS: Marx did quite well in trying to publicize his economics work to orthodox academics and intellectuals and by and large they no more would accept the political baggage then than now. The most notable exceptions were the Austrians, but frankly I doubt the good judgment of people who think the Austrians “won.”

56

gianni 12.17.14 at 10:02 pm

imho, no foray into Marx is complete without some excerpts from the German Ideology, even for introductory students this is where he concretely shows you how he got to his conclusions. After that, Gotha programme and Jewish question are both weighty texts worth mulling over, especially with neophytes ’cause they are short texts that can hopefully produce long discussion.

Above someone states: “the whole point of Marxism was 1917”, and others go against the OP regarding the relevance of the 20th century. But I am firmly with the OP on these matters. It was not for nothing that Gramsci argued that the Bolshevik revolution was in part a revolution against Das Kapital.

Push the history to a later date, don’t go into the internecine battles between interpretive camps, and PLEASE don’t come down either way on Hegel (I can’t stand people who make a summary judgement on Hegel to students/people not acquainted with his thought – the dude ruled intellectual culture for a generation, he deserves more than a dismissive joke).

These days, a foray into ‘crisis theory’ should pique the interests of a few additional students. The problem with this is that Marx’s original writings on the subject are not well composed or easily found. But the argument itself is not hard to piece together, and it opens up some solid lines of flight into discussion of other economic approaches.

But by and large – don’t let any free thinking individuals learn their Marx from Bradford DeLong. This is akin to going to the nightly cable news for accurate and intelligent discussion of current events. ie You are doing yourself a disservice in the name of some vapid notion of ‘respectability’ or whatever. DeLong is also a pompous windbag, so he is perfectly happy pretending to be a go-to authority on these questions that he is woefully unprepared to answer.

57

Peter Dorman 12.17.14 at 10:09 pm

Response to 55: Most of Marx’s economic analysis was in the form of notes unpublished at the time of his death. They were edited by Engels into volumes 2 and especially 3 of Capital.

There is good stuff in vol. 1 on the theory of the firm and business cycles, but to my knowledge it was long after his death that their economic significance was recognized.

58

bianca steele 12.17.14 at 10:19 pm

It’s very helpful, to those of a scholarly bent, to discover the titles of new (to them) books about Marx. But is Marxism something that can be understood just by reading books about Marx? Or is it something that can be understood by understanding a social movement? I have no problem accepting that there are people who call themselves Marxists who don’t consider themselves to be in the line of Lenin and Trotsky, much less of Stalin, and I have no problem accepting that there are people who call themselves Marxists who think Stalin was misunderstood. But I have no idea which any given person is.

last para of @45: OT but it seems plausible to me that it was both Marx’s weakness and his strength that he tested his arguments, repeatedly, against exactly one person, over and over again. His work might have been improved if he’d considered the arguments of multiple people. Or it might have been improved if he’d ignored Engels. I don’t know how we can know that “less isolation” would have had unambiguously positive effects.

59

bianca steele 12.17.14 at 10:25 pm

And I tend to suspect a lot of what passes for academic Marxism (especially on the Internet, and in non-academic circles where people were exposed to it in college) is basically really ‘too much sociology’.

60

mdc 12.17.14 at 10:32 pm

Question for the crowd: what’s the best text of Marx’s to read with students on the crisis of overproduction and the falling rate of profit, if you’d rather not awkwardly excerpt passages from vol 3 of Capital?

61

gianni 12.17.14 at 10:36 pm

@60 – you are probably going to have to do just that….

62

Anderson 12.17.14 at 10:42 pm

On a visit to Seaside, FL, I bought an abridgement of Capital (because how can you not, in that environment?), but haven’t gotten to it yet.

I think I would probably be more interested in Gramsci. BLEG: is that abridged Prison Notebooks edited by Hoare the go-to, or does the Forgacs “Antonio Gramsci Reader” supplant it?

(The sole Amazon review of the latter is … unhelpful.)

63

bob mcmanus 12.17.14 at 10:45 pm

But is Marxism something that can be understood just by reading books about Marx? Or is it something that can be understood by understanding a social movement?

Can a MRA guy understand feminism? Can a Klansman understand racism?

I think this is what got me accused of “methodological obscurantism” Based partly on Lukacs, I think the theory says that only a consciousness committed to and acting towards social revolution can even see the class struggle (or LTV or TFRP). Praxis informs theory.

59: There has been 2 generations of brilliance trying to understand what to do and how to think, or perhaps more accurately the changes in objective social conditions, after the failures of May 1968. (And the 70s in Italy.) Just as Marx adjusted after 1848 and 1870.

64

bianca steele 12.17.14 at 11:19 pm

Well, Bob, from one point of view books about Marxism that understand Marxism are impossible. But from another point of view they’re possible if they’re written by people who understand Marxism, and possibly are the right kind of people. But if they’re impossible, to say that “the theory” says anything at all would seem to be a gigantic assumption, because if that’s the case then everything’s still up for grabs.

65

William Timberman 12.17.14 at 11:23 pm

Rakesh @ 48 also intrigued me, especially the bit about the Galileo of the social science of capitalism, which is what I’d always understood him to be, despite being ignorant of much of the literature being bandied about here. My reading more recently has of necessity been eclectic, as I lack the formal background in economics to be more systematic in my choices, but every now and then in the course of that reading, I encounter a passage which makes me think that the dismal science might not so dismal as it-s cracked up to be. Rakesh’s 48 was one such, and here is another, from a 2002 paper by Alan Freeman, Marx After Marx After Sraffa, p.20:

For me the two most essential properties of the neoclassical view, and those which are most ardently ideologically supported by capital, are on the one hand the idea that the market is a relation between things rather than people; that what happens in trade is not the exchange of human labours but the exchange of mere objects; and secondly, the idea that such a system cannot produce crisis from within itself.

This is essentially the way that neoliberal economics regards the capitalist market. For neoliberalism the market is by definition perfect. If therefore it develops cycles or inequalities this cannot be the result of the market; water is curved because somebody bent it; the communists, the unions, bad government, incompetent monetary regulation, stupid and lazy people, corruption, terrorists – anything at all, except the market itself, is responsible for the failure of the market to follow its static course.

For me, one of the profoundest weaknesses of the Sraffian system, as a system, is that it does not contain within itself the necessary ontological and conceptual elements to overcome this most decisive characteristic of the neoliberal view and, to the contrary, it actually reenforces it.

This, I want to insist, neither leads me to the conclusion that the system should be omitted from consideration nor to the conclusion that anyone who believes it is ideologically committed to capitalism. It does, however, lead to the conclusion that Sraffians are doing no service either to themselves or to Marx by continuing to slam the door on alternative ways of thinking.

66

William Timberman 12.17.14 at 11:27 pm

Italics should have been carried through the entire quote above. Must’ve screwed up the tag somehow.

67

bob mcmanus 12.17.14 at 11:43 pm

62: My impression is that from that generation Gramsci is for academics, and the street reads Trotsky and/or his followers. Or you could google Podemos.

64? 65: Resnick and Wolff 2012, are decent on the ontological presuppositions of competing political-economic systems.

68

LFC 12.18.14 at 12:06 am

@Wm Timberman
Rakesh @ 48 also intrigued me, especially the bit about the Galileo of the social science of capitalism, which is what I’d always understood him to be

Rakesh @48 said that Marx understood himself to be the Galileo etc. Now Rakesh, who evidently has a high opinion of Marx’s economics, may very well also believe that Marx was the Galileo etc., but in terms of explicit claims, that’s not what Rakesh said (at least as I read it). I don’t think this is nitpicking but rather a distinction of some significance.

69

Collin Street 12.18.14 at 12:13 am

Italics should have been carried through the entire quote above. Must’ve screwed up the tag somehow.

Because of the way html handles whitespace, the submission engine has to auto-detect paragraph breaks and add p tags, which has the side-effect of ending any formatting you’ve added in the first paragraph [because tags have to be properly nested and paragraph tags are tags]. If you check the source you’ll see only the first paragraph is i-tagged; if I had to guess, I’d say that the engine “corrects” the html by closing unclosed tags and deleting unmatched closing tags.

Probably no real solution.

70

William Timberman 12.18.14 at 12:53 am

LFC @ 68: Yes, I did get that — I suppose …the bit about… didn’t adequately convey my grasp of the distinction, but type in haste, repent at leisure is something I’ve never quite been able to break myself of in blog comments. I admire the absence of typos, grammatical errors, tag faults, etc. in others, but for me at least, admiration comes easier than emulation.

Collin Street @ 69: Yes, I suspect that what I did was reverse the nesting order of the tags: i.e. open blockquote, open italics at the beginning of the quoted passage, but close block quote, close italics at the end. In any event, I’ve had no trouble before with putting properly nested tags at the beginning and end of a multi-paragraph quote. Knowing better doesn’t help much when you don’t proofread adequately, though, does it?

71

mattski 12.18.14 at 12:56 am

Anderson @ 62

Why Gramsci?

72

William Timberman 12.18.14 at 1:02 am

bob mcmanus @ 67

Thanks, I’ll add it to the list. As for Das Kapital not-to-be-assigned-to-survey-courses, or your own Marx-is-best-approached-through-secondary-sources, I’m tempted to agree, I’m still on what appears to be an eternal slog through vol. 2, which is why it’s particularly galling when academics, who’ve enjoyed the luxury of deep reading for pretty much their entire lives, allow as how all the juicy stuff comes in vol. 3. (No criticism intended of academics, by the way. I’m well aware that the aforesaid luxury was, in most cases anyway, very dearly earned.)

73

J Thomas 12.18.14 at 1:26 am

#60 mdc

Question for the crowd: what’s the best text of Marx’s to read with students on the crisis of overproduction and the falling rate of profit, if you’d rather not awkwardly excerpt passages from vol 3 of Capital?

Marx made complicated multi-dimensional simulations of an economy, and not having a computer he had to run them in his head.

Then to show them to other people he had to describe them in human language, a medium which is notoriously bad for that sort of thing.

Wouldn’t it be better to show students a simulation model which does what Marx said, and let them play with it?

Can anyone suggest a freeware simulation program that models Marx’s ideas about the crisis of overproduction and falling rate of profit? Preferably one that lays out the inter-relations clearly, and that various people agree actually fits Marx’s thinking….

74

david 12.18.14 at 3:08 am

I think attempting @73’s suggestion of simulating the TRPF is exactly what condemns the model to colliding with Okishio’s theorem.

75

David 12.18.14 at 3:48 am

My advice: Pretend this is the USSR circa 1963.

76

Plume 12.18.14 at 4:17 am

Chris,

Thanks for putting a lid on the talk of Marx’s supposed pile of bones. It’s automatic, whenever someone (me, for instance) brings up socialism or Marx. Some people immediately reach for the meme of 100 million deaths due to socialism, etc.

For once, I wish they’d apply their own methodology to capitalism. If an “ism” can indeed be guilty, then the figures for capitalism dwarf anything done by Stalin and company, etc. etc.

Some good articles on the subject:

Chomsky’s Counting the bodies

The Wiki entry for Late Victorian Holocausts

Unlearning Economic’s take on Comparing the isms

And a review of a book demonstrating that Capitalism’s structure leads to genocide

77

Plume 12.18.14 at 4:30 am

Basically, boiled down. If someone tags “socialism, communism or Marxism” with deaths due to famines, wars, purges, etc. etc. . . . then they must also tag capitalism with genocide of indigenous peoples, slavery, wars, famine, purges, etc. And just the Late Victorian Holocausts alone bring famine totals for the capitalist world up as high as 60 million.

That said . . .

One person’s take, Richard D. Wolff, is that Marxism is a critique of capitalism, not a particular form of government or a way to organize society — though there is a bit on that as well. Not much. But some. He sees its importance in a very modest way — judging from his writings and public speaking. It’s a necessary counter to cheerleader economics, though he is too polite to use those words.

As in, if you want to really learn about a family, you don’t just ask the kid who says he loves everything about it. You ask all the kids, including the one who is very critical. That very critical kid is “the Marxist” in that dynamic.

78

mbw 12.18.14 at 4:58 am

I understand everything you write except the part about not dismissing Hegel out of hand. Is that because you credit him with emphasizing the important idea of how much different aspects of social organization are tied together in a sort of whole? Fair enough, I guess. Or is it something about the Dialectic, in which case I’m back to not knowing why it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

79

Ze Kraggash 12.18.14 at 7:13 am

I was tout

80

Ze Kraggash 12.18.14 at 7:20 am

Scratch that. I was taught that marxism is a synthesis, a fusion of classical German philosophy, English political economy, and French utopianism.

81

Chris Bertram 12.18.14 at 7:32 am

LFC: just that the CGP is the most obvious connection between Marx’s thought and a lot of modern debates on distributive justice, including the “equality of what?” debate. There’s also quite a few modern philosophers who endorse some version of the “full fruits of labour” principle, which Marx exposes the limitations of in that text. Oddly, I’ve been looking through a pamphlet that Jerry Cohen wrote on Labour and clause 4 back in 1996 and he makes those points but, oddly, attributes them to (iirc) Menger.

82

Phenomenal cat 12.18.14 at 7:36 am

Dorman @ 45 nails it re Marx’ s isolation. I would give an arm and a leg for Marx and Neitzsche to have had a critical tête-à-tête…oh the possibilities.

Alas. I’d give even more to have Neitzsche live 40 more years of sanity and become conversant with the then emerging anthropological literature.

83

Phenomenal cat 12.18.14 at 7:38 am

Oh well, fate’s a bitch

84

J Thomas 12.18.14 at 10:54 am

#72 David

I think attempting @73’s suggestion of simulating the TRPF is exactly what condemns the model to colliding with Okishio’s theorem.

I don’t know much about Marx’s ideas, so let me see if one of the following is what you are saying:

1. Maybe Marx was trying to do complicated simulation models in his head, and he got something wrong. He saw correctly that an innovation which benefits one capitalist, will not yield as much profit when all the competitors copy the new method. But he wrongly believed that the reduction in profit from that would result in reduced fraction of total profit, when in reality the result is always that profit does increase some.

2. Maybe Marx was so unclear when he tried to describe his model in german that it is not possible to create a modern simulation without specifying things he did not say, and while it might be possible to do it in a way that recreates his results, it would not be possible to say that this was his model.

I was also not familiar with Okishio’s model. Wikipedia gives an exceptionally clear explanation of something it describes as his model. Some phrases that stood out:

…Due to the tendency, described by Marx, of rates of profits to equalise between branches (here departments) a general rate of profit for the economy as a whole will be created.

Okishio, following some Marxist tradition, assumes a constant real wage rate equal to the value of labour power….

… From this an equilibrium growth path can be computed.

… it is assumed that the labour saving technique goes hand in hand with a higher productive consumption of investment goods ….

At first glance it looks to me like Okishio has created a particular model in which Marx’s claims fail, and it has some similarity to whatever Marx’s model was. But this does not say whether other models similar to Marx’s would work as Marx said, and it of course says nothing whatsoever about the real world.

It looks to me as if it invalidates Marx’s claim that profits must inevitably fall, by creating a possible model in which they instead rise. It leaves an open question what changes in the model would be required for profits to fall instead.

85

c 12.18.14 at 11:34 am

This Brett Bellmore is quite the stalinist in terms of discourse. The discussions here would be more interesting to read without the recurring BB sideshow.

I have no problem in calling myself broadly marxist in a sociological sense. Or more precisely accepting a social theory with components most prominently explored and developed in the marxist tradition. See Erik Olin Wright for an intro http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/621%20&%20929%20-%202014/lecture-week-01-2014.pdf But such a position can also be described without the word marxism. As for normative theory the marxist tradition and contemporary libertarianism share a commitment to variations of a fundamentally mistaken labor theory of rights to property.

DeLong has on other topics written many insightful, clear and what I think are true things. Some of his writings on Marx are good too. But he has a weird, scary and factually mistaken fetisch for clamping down on CB. DeLong’s substantive sorting and itemizing of the aspects of Marx is useful but mistakenly downplay the sociological parts. He writes that “active working-class consciousness as a primary source of loyalty and political allegiance was never that strong; nation and ethnos seem to trump class much more often than not.” National and ethnic constructs are powerful forces in human psychology, true. But so is class and work related social constructs. Not as (increasingly) strong as Marx forecasted. But a real force in the world that any social theory should take into account. Even in the US.

Finally a juletime wish for 2015: that the CT team deploy techniques for the comments section to curb some of the ills listed here
http://blog.codinghorror.com/what-if-we-could-weaponize-empathy/

86

Ronan(rf) 12.18.14 at 12:09 pm

This might sound trollish, but it’s not meant to be (and CB can, of course, tell me to get back on topic if he feels it might derail the thread ) But how do people teach Hayek ? I’m only reading bits and pieces of what he wrote for the first time and a lot of it seems fairly insightful to me (particularly the stuff that seems relevant to complexity theory etc) What were the good bits of Hayek (I know the bad)

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Plume 12.18.14 at 1:41 pm

Chris @81,

Could you flesh out your thoughts on “full fruits of labor” from above?

To me, that’s a key aspect of Marx and Marxists, and an essential reason why I, personally, see capitalism as immoral to the core.

Basically, the pre-capitalist guy who builds chairs him/herself and sells them all on their own, no workforce, etc. etc. . . would pay themselves X+ amount. But if they hire workers, become capitalists, they would pay their workers far less for the same or more productivity, even factoring in additional costs. They would pay <X, or <<X, and increase their own compensation the bigger their workforce got in relative terms to them. They would make money off their workers, not from their own production, even after you factor in their costs and their managerial time. They might then limit even that by hiring managers, etc. etc. Eventually, they might have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of production, other than paying for labor to make the commodities for money (M-C-M, etc.)

Again, I find this immoral to the core.

88

mdc 12.18.14 at 2:19 pm

“Again, I find this immoral to the core.”

I can imagine why, but I think it’s important that Marx doesn’t.

89

William Timberman 12.18.14 at 2:50 pm

Does the world make us, or do we make the world? An ancient, honorable, and seemingly eternal question. Marx’s answer, it seems to me, is that both are true, and that the political project should be first to identify in as much detail as possible how this dual truth actually functions, and then to use the knowledge gained to provide a reliable measure of justice to everyone in human society.

Neoliberals, with their market supremacy fetishism on the one hand, and their professed belief in a democratic political process on the other, also appear to believe both that the-world-makes-us, and that we-make-the-world — granting that their belief in a democratic political process is sincere, which I admit I often doubt. What makes their influence so malign, it seems to me, is that they see no need whatsoever to reconcile the two, as though having a left hand that knew what the right hand was doing would pose an intolerable threat to their freedom of action.

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J Thomas 12.18.14 at 2:57 pm

#87 Plume

They would make money off their workers, not from their own production, even after you factor in their costs and their managerial time. They might then limit even that by hiring managers, etc. etc. Eventually, they might have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of production, other than paying for labor to make the commodities for money (M-C-M, etc.)

This is libertarian ethics. It’s OK to disagree but understand the thinking.

If you don’t control the system, if nobody controls it, you can make agreements with other people to your and their mutual benefit. If they don’t think they’re getting a good enough deal they can refuse it, or they can quit. If they need to make a deal they’ll make the best deal they can get, with whoever will give them that best deal. To some people this is about as moral as it gets.

So, in most enterprises there’s some limiting factor. Something that’s in shortest supply.
http://feed-additives.evonik.com/product/feed-additives/SiteCollectionImages/other/norm_full_new_liebig-barrel.jpg

Whatever is needed that is in shortest supply can expect to take the lion’s share of resources. Everything else will get just enough to keep them going. Whenever the limiting factor is not labor, labor will not get much. (Unless whoever is hiring is willing to give away money he doesn’t have to, so his employees will do better than they otherwise would, and he doesn’t mind limiting his business to do that.)

Marx said that labor would get just enough to keep going, which I interpret to mean enough to raise a family with replacement workers when the old workers die off. But that is not necessary. People can work for starvation wages when the alternative is to starve faster. Employers can raise wages when the supply of labor has gone down enough to meet demand.

I say there’s nothing particularly wrong with businessmen making the best deals they can get, to help them survive competition with their own competitors, when nobody is in charge of the system. It may though be immoral to set up a system where nobody is in charge and nobody is supposed to prevent mass starvation, mass poisoning, etc. If you’re going to set up a system where nobody will be responsible for how the system works, you’d better do a very good job of setting it up in the first place.

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Robert 12.18.14 at 3:21 pm

Marx opposed the idea that capitalism satisfies the “iron law of wages.” What is important in his theory of value and distribution (and in classical economics) is that the wage be given.

The wage need not tend towards physical subsistence. The given wage can reflect norms about what a respectable and decent person must consume. Those norms might slowly change, in a process of hysteresis, if the market wage persists over the natural wage for a long time period. J. S. Mill, among others, wrote about this.

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MPAVictoria 12.18.14 at 3:22 pm

Plume is back! I have missed your comments.

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LFC 12.18.14 at 3:23 pm

Chris B. @81
Thanks for the reply re CGP. I’m going to have to re-read it at some point. I think I’ll still end up disagreeing fairly strongly with certain aspects of it as I did when I read it a long time ago as a student, but definitely worth revisiting (with your comment in mind).

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Chris Bertram 12.18.14 at 3:42 pm

Plume: the point is that any system that aims to secure for the workers the full fruits of their labour, necessarily ignores the justified claims of others to a share of the social product on grounds of need: children, the old, the sick, those too disabled to work etc etc.

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Plume 12.18.14 at 3:51 pm

Thanks, Chris

That makes sense. I was thinking about it in its pre-tax sense. A fair and progressive tax distribution could “fix” the latter problem. And there are other alternatives beyond taxation.

As in, there could be full worker democracy in place, the economy could be fully democratized, workers would be in co-ops, and the co-ops would work together . . . . and part of the surplus would be set aside for those who can’t work, etc.

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Plume 12.18.14 at 3:52 pm

MPA,

Thanks. Hope you are well.

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Harold 12.18.14 at 4:35 pm

The workman is worthy of his hire.

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Rakesh 12.18.14 at 6:11 pm

It’s not just that each worker can’t get the Lassallean undiminished proceeds of his labor if society is to attend to the needs of those who cannot work; it’s also that value added has to be socialized to provide what we now call public goods, to create reserves necessary for social resilience in the face of accidents and disasters, and much else. I am still not sure that this would be the place to introduce students to Marx’s signal contributions.

But perhaps the way to teach Marx is as a critic–in this case of Lassalle to whom Marx was characteristically ungenerous (Lassalle’s early writings on the concept of capital, I found, quite interesting). But also as a critic of Hegel, Feuerbach, Proudhon, the various alternative socialisms surveyed in the CM, of the classical economists, of the vulgar economists, of the anarchists, of the new ethnologists.

Almost always interesting, often inspired, sometimes blindingly brilliant, and most often unfair.

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Brett Dunbar 12.18.14 at 6:57 pm

Isn’t it more that the marginal worker must obtain, at least subsistence. This doesn’t mean that all or even many workers are only getting that. If you are a great deal more productive than the marginal worker you can do a great deal better than that. If your job requires a scarce skill it is entirely possible for everyone willing and able to do that job is earning a great deal more than that.

An employer is trading cash for labour while the employee is trading labour for cash. The trade only makes sense if both benefit. For jobs where productivity is hard to measure a sizeable proportion of workers can have negligible or even negative marginal productivity.

Plume seems to believe that most workers have a large positive marginal productivity. Given that most businesses operate in a competitive environment this seems implausible. As by cutting profit margins you could undercut your competitors and gain market share. Large profit margins are an indicator of weak or absent competition.

100

J Thomas 12.18.14 at 9:34 pm

#99 Brett Dunbar

I want to recommend this wikipedia article.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okishio%27s_theorem
Okishio was a Marxian economist who made mathematical modes that sort of fit what Marx said. He “proved” that you can’t have profit without exploiting surplus labor. This article describes a simple model of the economy which is in some ways compatible with Marx.

Plume seems to believe that most workers have a large positive marginal productivity. Given that most businesses operate in a competitive environment this seems implausible. As by cutting profit margins you could undercut your competitors and gain market share.

The assumption seems to be that first, if you cut profit margins your competitors will cut theirs too so you don’t gain market share for long. You wind up with not only less profit per unit but less total profit. Even worse, there is an assumption that profits will equalize across industries. If your undostry has less profit because you started a price war, people will tend to take their money out of it and invest in other industries which bring more profit. Production goes down and so profits go up. Then as some of your undercapitalized competitors go out of business, eventually you get the chance to raise profits enough to attract capital, and in theory the situation should equilibrate across all industries, giving everybody the same profit.

I don’t know why people want to assume that things will approach that equilibrium. Anybody can see that profits are not the same across industries in real life. And we know that usually two-variable feedback systems don’t approach equilibrium but tend to fall into a limit cycle, and feedback systems with many variables often approach chaotic states where you can’t possibly tell what will happen without measuring the important variables to more precision than you can possibly measure.

But they used to not know any better. The old ideas still have historical value, although they should be completely irrelevant to today’s economics.

Marginal productivity of workers. Just as there is likely to be some limiting input that results in other inputs not having much effect when they are more available, and just like any activity is likely to have a critical path so that a speedup in events that are on the critical path can get a faster result, but a speedup in events that are not on the critical path probably won’t, at any given time and place there is likely to be *one* worker whose marginal productivity is very high. Good luck figuring out which one it is. If he knew it himself, he might want to hold you up for ransom.

Pretty often it’s “hurry up and wait”. Your contribution probably does not matter much, but if something goes wrong and they decide that you were the problem, then it matters a whole lot.

Large profit margins are an indicator of weak or absent competition.

Yes. Like Don Lancaster said, you really really don’t want to be in an industry where everybody is losing their shirts and you’re hoping to lose your shirt slowest. That’s no fun at all. Maybe sometime in the far future you can look back at the suffering and think it was necessary to get you to the riches you will have then. Much more likely you will have nothing but regrets.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.18.14 at 10:49 pm

Marxism 101

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cassander 12.18.14 at 11:27 pm

>Sorry, where does Marx advocate death camps and genocide?

“We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.”

“The very cannibalism of the counterrevolution will convince the nations that there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.”

“Society is undergoing a silent revolution, which must be submitted to, and which takes no more notice of the human existences it breaks down than an earthquake regards the houses it subverts. The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.”

“A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?”

The last of those was engels, not marx, but I felt it was worth mentioning, And let us not forget, when marx speaks of revolution, he is invoking, and usually speaking favorably of, the french revolution, complete with terror. marx unquestionably called for the blood that lenin and stalin delivered.

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MPAVictoria 12.18.14 at 11:47 pm

“”There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’, if we could but remember and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passions, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon a thousand persons, the other upon a hundred million; but our shudders are all for the “horrors of the… momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror – that unspeakable bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

Mark Twain, writing about the French Revolution,
in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”

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cassander 12.19.14 at 1:05 am

@MPA victoria

In the mid 19th century, france was executing about 17 people per million per year, russia an astonishly low 2 people per million. the official soviet statistics for executions and gulag deaths from 21-53 are about 2.5 million, or 80 thousand a year. Going on the 1937 population figures, that works out to about 470 executions per million. That means that france would had to have been killing at the 19th century rate for 900 years to do as much damage, adjusted for population size, as the communists did in 32. I’m pretty sure even you would be hard pressed to blame the crimes of robert the pious on capitalism. And, of course, there is the trickier philosophical problem of how the crimes of the czars justified the the communists in committing even greater crimes once they were gone.

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stevenjohnson 12.19.14 at 2:51 am

Have I misunderstood Okishio’s theorem as demonstrating that a general equilibrium (i.e., non-crisis) condition for a continued rise in the general rate of profit is constant real wages for the workers? And if so, how is this a refutation of Marxism rather than a criticism of capitalism?

As to the applicability of this theorem to the real world, trying to abstract from the difficulties in using any equilibrium analysis of economy that seems rarely to be in equilibrium…it seems to me that we can’t generalize very much even within a single nation, much less the whole capitalist system. In the US real wages appear to have been rising post-war to mid-seventies, then slowly declining since. The Sraffa or Okishio type systems appear to ignore real world phenomena like structural unemployment, immigration, emigration, offshore production, etc.

Back on topic: If someone wants to emphasize Marx the philosopher Poverty of Philosophy.

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David 12.19.14 at 2:55 am

cassander, there doesn’t seem to be anything about death camps or genocide in that quote mining list you posted.

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J Thomas 12.19.14 at 3:07 am

#105 stevenjohnson

Have I misunderstood Okishio’s theorem as demonstrating that a general equilibrium (i.e., non-crisis) condition for a continued rise in the general rate of profit is constant real wages for the workers?

I think so, based on a Wikipedia explanation. It looks like constant real wages plus some other assumptions can allow continuing rise in general rate of profit. I see no reason to think that’s a necessary condition, and it looks like the model would allow wages to rise some and still allow profits to rise also.

And if so, how is this a refutation of Marxism rather than a criticism of capitalism?

As i understand it, a simple misreading of Marx would say that profits must fall no matter what, so if there can be a model where profits do not fall, that refutes one thing that Marx is claimed to have said.

Wikipedia says that Okishio said that he didn’t think this refuted Marx.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobuo_Okishio

Okishio worked to clarify the logic of Karl Marx’s economic system, offering formal and mathematical proofs for many Marxian theorems. For example, in 1955, he gave the world’s first proof of the “Marxian fundamental theorem”, as it was later named by Michio Morishima, which is the theory that the exploitation of surplus labor is the necessary condition for the existence of positive profit. Concerning Marx’s Falling Rate of Profit, Okishio considered that his famous theorem would not deny it.[clarification needed]

Surely there have been many simulation models created which more-or-less fit Marx’s german-language model and which behave more-or-less the way Marx predicted they would. Which of them would be best to present to students?

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cassander 12.19.14 at 3:21 am

@david

then perhaps you can explain how you feel that “The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.” is not a call for genocide, or “Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it[terror] freely enough?” is not a call for mass murder.

Or do you intend to argue that because marx advocated for mass death, but was silent on the question of whether or not the killings should be done in camps, then any deaths that occurred at such camps couldn’t possibly have anything to do with him?

109

David 12.19.14 at 3:32 am

No, I obviously intend the much more obvious point that in all of these quotes he is talking about routine political violence in the wake of a revolutionary civil war. The kind that has happened countless times before and will happen countless times again.

No serious socialist would believe that such a revolution could come about without forms of violence and repression – as nearly all revolutions inevitably do. Even rightists, when they aren’t solemnly quoting The Black Book of Communism, understand that violence and war are sometimes necessary, that ”freedom isn’t free”. They just want to circumscribe the situations in which violence is acceptable (like in Pinochet’s Chile) and when it is not (anything pinko).

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Plume 12.19.14 at 5:21 am

Conservatives will often toss off the number of 100 million dead for socialism — or pin that all on Marx. As it can seem perverse to argue over numbers on that scale, I won’t talk about exaggerations — with a caveat. Right-wingers today, contrary to when I was growing up, include Hitler and Nazism within that number horror. Hitler and Nazism were right-wing diseases, and not “socialist” in any way, shape or form. Hitler hated Marx and said so, in no uncertain terms. Socialists, Marxists and communists were mortal enemies of the Nazis and Fascists, and dominated the resistance groups throughout Europe. Nazi and Fascist butchery doesn’t count toward the Black Book of Communism.

From my research, however, I’ve seen tallies for death due to capitalism as high as 1.6 billion, with the low end being several hundred million, and that’s not even counting deaths due to capitalist products like cigarettes, which kill many millions a year — which means well over 100 million since they first sold them.

Conservatives shouldn’t scream about death and destruction via communism unless they’re will to look carefully at the economic system they love. If they look carefully, honestly, closely, the conclusions are unavoidable. No “ism” has killed more human beings, or wrecked more lives, or impoverished more people, or destroyed more eco-systems and habitats than capitalism. It’s not at all close.

If Marxism is valuable in any way, it most especially is for its critical view of an evil, immoral system, which all too many people support blindly.

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Plume 12.19.14 at 5:37 am

btw,

Thanks for the links provided here, all. I enjoyed some of the articles suggested. Had not read Joan Robinson’s open letter, for instance. But we get a better context for it when we also read the Jacobin article discussing her evolution after that. DeLong doesn’t discuss that.

If this article was already linked to, apologies. It’s Mike Beggs on the idea of Zombie Marxism, which I found really interesting.

Personally, I don’t hold any text, from anyone, ever, anywhere as “sacred.” I much prefer the left-anarchist motto of no gods, no masters, and that would include Marx. I don’t see the bible as sacred and inerrant, or our constitution, or our founders, or badges, titles and uniforms, and I honestly don’t understand people who do. Basically, when I hear people screaming about “what the founders wanted,” I’m appalled, really. Why on earth should we give a shit? It would be no less strange to pattern our life (or polity) after the wishes of some long ago dead ancestor we obviously never met. It seems even stranger to base our lives on the words of ancient texts 2000-2500 years ago.

I feel the same way about Marx, though I do ID as a Marxist in a sense. A non-orthodox, non-doctrinaire Marxist, who is still learning and evolving . . . etc. etc. With a long way to go.

If anything is “sacred” in my life, it’s great art, music, literature. And that’s obviously not in the same way as a person might adhere to a political philosophy, etc. etc.

Good night, all.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.19.14 at 5:50 am

Just thought I’d point out something that seems obvious to me: there’s no violence, let alone genocide, implied in ““The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.”

Learn to read.

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cassander 12.19.14 at 5:57 am

@dave

>No, I obviously intend the much more obvious point that in all of these quotes he is talking about routine political violence in the wake of a revolutionary civil war.

You might be able to make this argument, though it is hard to stomach given when he was writing. the problem is that marx repeatedly speaks not merely of violent conflict but revolutionary terror, and in the context of the mid 19th century, that can only be a reference to the mass murder that followed the french revolution.

> They just want to circumscribe the situations in which violence is acceptable (like in Pinochet’s Chile)

There was not a single communist revolutionary that did not kill many times more people than pinochet did, and the only ones who were ever tried for their crimes were those stalin put up. really, the pearl clutching that leftists do around him is embarrassing.

@plume

>From my research, however, I’ve seen tallies for death due to capitalism as high as 1.6 billion, with the low end being several hundred million, and that’s not even counting deaths due to capitalist products like cigarettes, which kill many millions a year — which means well over 100 million since they first sold them.

Rarely have I read anything more absurd. the USSR, of course, sold cigarettes as well, but I’m sure that capitalists are somehow to blame for that as well. even the absurd black book of capitalism only manages to get to 100 million in the 20th century by attributing nearly 60 million dead in both world wars to capitalism. the 100 million deaths for communism is not just deaths, it’s murders. If you are accounting for “excess deaths,” then you must also include all the excess deaths that the failure of communist economies to become as rich as the west must have caused, given how closely LE and national GDP per capita track.

114

David 12.19.14 at 5:58 am

JPT, clearly, and right-wingers know that which is why they falsified the quote by adding the bit about ”they all must perish in the revolutionary holocaust” to scare people and further draw out the connotations they wanted.

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David 12.19.14 at 6:02 am

”You might be able to make this argument, though it is hard to stomach given when he was writing. the problem is that marx repeatedly speaks not merely of violent conflict but revolutionary terror, and in the context of the mid 19th century, that can only be a reference to the mass murder that followed the french revolution.”

And? The French Revolution is generally only regarded as this unspeakable horror in the minds of European continental conservatives in order to shore up their Burkean (or god forbid de Maistrean) worldview.

In one of those quotes he was specifically responding to a situation in which counterrevolutionary terror was being used in Vienna. It was little more than a ”We’ll get you next time!” verbal parry. Context matters.

”There was not a single communist revolutionary that did not kill many times more people than pinochet did, and the only ones who were ever tried for their crimes were those stalin put up. really, the pearl clutching that leftists do around him is embarrassing.”

It isn’t a numbers game. It isn’t ok if Pinochet kills and tortures 30,000 and not ok if Stalin does it to 30,000,000.

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cassander 12.19.14 at 7:07 am

@david

>And? The French Revolution is generally only regarded as this unspeakable horror in the minds of European continental conservatives in order to shore up their Burkean (or god forbid de Maistrean) worldview.

the question at hand is not “was the french revolution a good thing” but “did marx advocate mass killing” he did. repeatedly.

>It isn’t a numbers game. It isn’t ok if Pinochet kills and tortures 30,000 and not ok if Stalin does it to 30,000,000.

Pinochet killed 3000, not 30,000, but yes, it is a numbers game. the goal is to figure out what sort political/economic system is the most beneficial, and in that contest, the number and frequency with which a system murders people is highly relevant. Communism murdered a lot of people every single time. that doesn’t make pinochet good for killing 3000, but it does make him at least 10,000 times better than stalin.

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David 12.19.14 at 7:30 am

”the question at hand is not “was the french revolution a good thing” but “did marx advocate mass killing” he did. repeatedly.”

Then your entire aside was irrelevant to begin with. You haven’t even come close to proving the initial point – Marx did not advocate ”death camps” or ”genocide”, he advocated successful revolutionary war.

”Pinochet killed 3000, not 30,000”’

Tortured 30,000.

”but yes, it is a numbers game”

No it isn’t. I will not respond further. Adults are talking.

118

Scott Martens 12.19.14 at 8:31 am

I usually tell people, when asked about my politics, that I’m a “Groucho Marxist” (unless I think that they’ve studied economics, in which case I’m an anarcho-Keynesian) and I have had to explain Marx in academic settings, which isn’t

119

Scott Martens 12.19.14 at 8:43 am

(Sorry… German keyboard pushed enter without my consent)

I usually tell people, when asked about my politics, that I’m a “Groucho Marxist” (unless I think that they’ve studied economics, in which case I’m an anarcho-Keynesian) and I have had to explain Marx in academic settings (and right now to some degree in a commercial setting, since I am pushing activity theory as a development strategy for software), which isn’t quite teaching it. But one of the first things I have to explain to new readers of Marx is the semantics of his use of the words “subject” and “object”, which pose an enormous barrier to people who aren’t familiar with the period terminology.

Second, I try to emphasize the importance of reading Marx’ revolutionary aspirations in a context where nothing like modern democratic values or modern human rights law existed. He has to be read in the framework of the Europe of the mostly failed 1848 revolutions. He was a 19th century figure and to see him as some sort of transcendent thinker in order to condemn him is no better than the kind of socialism that quotes his works the way evangelicals use the Bible.

I would suggest that labels like “Western Marxist”, “Marxist-Leninist”, “Marx-Lenin-Mao-Zedong-thought” (马克思列宁毛泽东主义) have no real present-day value in thinking about Marx and have not had any value since 1990. There is a Marxist intellectual tradition. It includes a lot of people with a lot of ideas. They can be understood in context and evaluated on their own merits and demerits. Sectarian terminology is only really useful in a historical sense.

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Ze Kraggash 12.19.14 at 8:45 am

I was thinking recently that perhaps the biggest problem with marxism is its eurocentricity. They project (and, in fact, impose) their quintessentially European/Western model on the whole world, so that people living in Afghan mountains, the Kalahari desert, or Chukotka tundra can only be viewed as hopelessly primitive. Growth of productivity and ever intensified division of labor is the inevitable way forward, the only way of evolution.

Well, I don’t like that. One alternative view would be that the western civilization is nothing but a malignant tumor, which makes these ‘age-of-reason’ isms, including marxism, rather meaningless. Just a thought.

121

J. Parnell Thomas 12.19.14 at 9:06 am

Fanon:

“Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.

Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.

Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe? The West saw itself as a spiritual adventure. It is in the name of the spirit, in the name of the spirit of Europe, that Europe has made her encroachments, that she has justified her crimes and legitimized the slavery in which she holds four-fifths of humanity.”

etc.

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Haftime 12.19.14 at 9:46 am

Just in case anyone was feeling overwhelmed by the depth of Cassander’s scholarship, this quote should give you an idea of their diligence.

‘explain how you feel that “The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.” is not a call for genocide’
It’s an article about industrialisation and how it is both necessary and is leading to the destruction of the traditional way of life (my precis is by no means exact). Cassander obviously believes that 19th Century British agricultural industrialisation was genocide. That is a position that it is possible for people to hold.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1853/03/04.htm

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passer-by 12.19.14 at 10:07 am

@100: “Society is undergoing a silent revolution, which must be submitted to, and which takes no more notice of the human existences it breaks down than an earthquake regards the houses it subverts. The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way.”
Someone has to point out that this quote is not a call for genocide, but a critique of the cost of the industrial revolution, in an article discussing mass Irish emigration in 1847-53, where he posits that that industrial revolution, capitalism and imperialism, are a historical necessity (“which must be submitted to”) that comes with extremely high human cost. Including this quote in your list is a very nice way of pointing out the extreme violence of 19th century capitalism:
“But with modern compulsory emigration the case stands quite opposite. Here it is not the want of productive. power which creates a surplus population; it is the increase of productive power which demands a diminution of population, and drives away the surplus by famine or emigration. It is not population that presses on productive power; it is productive power that presses on population.
Now I share neither in the opinions of Ricardo, who regards ‘Net-Revenue’ as the Moloch to whom entire populations must be sacrificed, without even so much as complaint, nor in the opinion of Sismondi, who, in his hypochondriacal philanthropy, would forcibly retain the superannuated methods of agriculture and proscribe science from industry, as Plato expelled poets from his Republic. Society is undergoing a silent revolution, which must be submitted to, and which takes no more notice of the human existences it breaks down than an earthquake regards the houses it subverts. The classes and the races, too weak to master the new conditions of life, must give way. But can there be anything more puerile, more short-sighted, than the views of those Economists who believe in all earnest that this woeful transitory state means nothing but adapting society to the acquisitive propensities of capitalists, both landlords and money-lords? In Great Britain the working of that process is most transparent. The application of modern science to production clears the land of its inhabitants, but it concentrates people in manufacturing towns.”

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J Thomas 12.19.14 at 1:28 pm

#117 David

”Pinochet killed 3000, not 30,000”’

Tortured 30,000.

”but yes, it is a numbers game”

No it isn’t. I will not respond further. Adults are talking.

I sympathize with your frustration, and still this looks like a good opportunity to indulge one of my own hobbyhorses.

For a long time there were few accurate numbers about anything. Like, there was scattered price data for wheat for lots of europe for a long time, because people in various places did mention the going price in their local markets. There was very little data about actual amounts of wheat bought and sold, because basicly nobody knew.

And then empires arose that could collect large amounts of data. The printing press and plentiful paper gave people the idea that data could be transmitted effectively. And there were more buildings that paper would be reasonably safe in. Fewer people growing more food, so more people could have the jobs of counting thing and writing down numbers. People started to get the idea that they could really know what was going on, because they could look at the numbers and find out.

It didn’t work. Even with a fairly small number of numbers collected, minds drowned in the complexity.

They invented statistics partly to winnow the data. Ignore the individual numbers and concentrate on averages and predicted variability. That was somewhat useful. Sometimes it failed, or gave misleading results.

For awhile only governments could afford to collect generally-valid data, and people tended to trust the numbers. There were no competing numbers, and the people who collected numbers for a living were honest. But then it turned out that anybody could collect reasonably small samples and do statistics on them. And as the government numbers got increasingly important, there was increasing temptation to lie with them. Announce politically-expedient improved numbers with a big fanfare, then gradually dial them back with corrections over time, until they are low enough that the next set of numbers can be a big improvement over the last set.

And of course since people tended to believe numbers, liars lied about them. It’s reached the point that people tend not to believe numbers any more. “Pinochet killed 30,000.” “No, it was only 3,000.” Who’s right? Does it even matter? If it was only a few liars we could track it down and decide, and then choose to ignore the liars when they spout later numbers. But it’s pretty much everybody. People repeat things they hear, you can hardly blame them.

You can try to track down where the bad numbers come from and often the trail gets cold. The CIA has a whole discipline that involves getting reputable organizations to publish their bad numbers in foreign countries. They might get some short-term benefit by getting foreigners to believe some untrue things, but the eventual result is that they don’t believe anything very much, because they know so much of it is lies, and they get kind of apathetic. It may seem like a good outcome for the USA when otherwise-nationalistic foreigners get apathetic. But it’s happening in the USA too. You can’t believe numbers you read in the media. If it’s scientific papers you can track down the paper and read their methods and decide whether you believe them. It is probably not scientists publishing false data which somebody may someday fail to replicate, because the CIA or somebody wants to use their prestige to spread lies. Probably when they get things wrong it’s just because they made mistakes.

But people generally don’t believe in science the way they used to. A whole lot of people are ready to believe that the whole of climate science is lies created by scientists who are ready to fake their data to further political goals.

Numbers are still important for highly-trained people who use good numbers to predict stuff. It’s an arcane art. To get good numbers you have to be doing something that is not politically significant — because if it matters enough then people *will* falsify the numbers to fool people who depend on them.

So for example the 3000 number for Chile. The original report threw out about 1500 cases where they couldn’t prove the deaths were “political”. They included some government underlings killed by leftist revolutionaries. They ignored examples that lacked adequate documentation. So if somebody in authority happened to beat up a poor person while getting information, and didn’t actually arrest him, and later he died, that didn’t count. The number is a minimum figure, somewhat inflated by deaths on the other side. I would not be surprised if the real number is 3 times as big. I would be very surprised if it was more than 300 times as big.

But it’s only people arguing on the internet. When it comes right down to it, what difference does it make that none of the numbers are reliable? Every killing is a tragedy. And Pinochet might have thought he was preventing a USSR-style communism with purges and millions of deaths. Every mass murderer is the hero of his own drama.

I believe that once a man starts a reign of political terror, he hardly ever stops. He can stop when his enemies are gone, or when he is deposed, but he’s very unlikely to stop half way. And when he starts he can’t know how far it will go. That depends on his enemies. Nobody says “I’ll start disappearing people but only up to 2,500, if it takes more than that then I’ll quit and have an election.” Nobody says “I’ll do it but only up to 900,000, if I haven’t stopped the dissent by then I’ll take my gold and fly to Monaco rather than kill more of my enemies than that.” So I say the crime is in starting in the first place. When you first set up death squads, you’re making an open-ended commitment to kill as many people as it takes. Morally you are as bad as Stalin, starting from that decision.

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Plume 12.19.14 at 2:04 pm

No, Cassander, the numbers reached by conservatives do not count “murders.” They get most of the way to their total from famine. And they exaggerate those totals to arrive at their magic 100 million. And, again, they include Hitler, who was a staunch right-winger, put into power by conservatives like themselves, and someone who absolutely hated Marx, socialists, communists, etc. etc. and slaughtered them by the boatload. And they, in turn, fought him to the death — and fought Franco before him, etc.

And if it makes you feel better, take Soviet cigarettes out of the mix, though they’re still a product of capitalism’s evilness, and by rights should go into the Black Book of Capitalism. But, again, they were never counted in those totals. So why be so defensive? And why apply a methodology to “socialist” nations that you refuse to apply to capitalist nations?

Beyond that, socialist and communist theory, if it were actually followed, would end famine, and end ruling classes, so you wouldn’t even have centers of power strong enough to get to those numbers. The inherent logic of socialism and communism lead to peace and prosperity for all, with full democracy — the real thing — in place. The inherent logic of capitalism leads to wars, genocide, slavery and the concentration of monopoly power, oligarchy and plutocracy.

Marx knew this. Marxists know this. But capitalists and their cheerleaders are blind to the horrors of the system they love.

126

Plume 12.19.14 at 2:20 pm

Scott,

This is well stated:

Second, I try to emphasize the importance of reading Marx’ revolutionary aspirations in a context where nothing like modern democratic values or modern human rights law existed. He has to be read in the framework of the Europe of the mostly failed 1848 revolutions. He was a 19th century figure and to see him as some sort of transcendent thinker in order to condemn him is no better than the kind of socialism that quotes his works the way evangelicals use the Bible.

Revolutionary fervor in the 19th century was in a completely different context, one of brutality, torture and frequent murder of workers’ rights activists. These weren’t people fighting for a 40 hour week. These were people fighting against “authorities” who wouldn’t think twice about jailing them or killing them for any dissident views. And working conditions in that day were dangerous to the health and safety of all workers — far worse than the abysmal and still highly dangerous conditions at places like Foxconn in China today. Foxconn, btw, tells us in no uncertain terms what capitalism is with “minarchist” style regulations in place.

The flipside of that context is the truly stupid contention by modern day opponents of socialism that any attempt at it now will have the same result as Russia in 1917. How would radically different inputs, under radically different conditions, in a completely different world, equal results from 1917 Russia? It’s actually pure idiocy to believe that things would be the same.

Nearly a century has passed. Socialist and communist theories have evolved. Conditions are as if on another planet. And if it happened in America, there would be no America trying to stomp it into the ground, fomenting civil wars, embargoing it, trying to do “regime change,” etc. etc. As in, the lone super power would be changing, and it wouldn’t be a tiny, economically backward nation, fighting off the entire capitalist world . . . which undoubtedly forces fledgling governments to turn inward, paranoid, autocratic. A small, weak nation under constant threat isn’t exactly going to give full on democracy a try, etc.

127

Stuart Ingham 12.19.14 at 3:05 pm

I always like to teach ‘On The Jewish Question.’

Students often come in with a pre-conceived notion of the way that Marx understands the relationship between ideas and economic power. Namely that the former are some kind of epiphenomenon of the latter. On The Jewish Question, for all its faults, offers an extraordinary rich account of how our ideas might be effected by our psychological responses to social pressures. It’s thus a great gateway into grasping central Marxian notions like ‘ideology’ and ‘false consciousness’ in a way that isn’t reductive and conspiratorial.

128

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.14 at 3:47 pm

“It’s thus a great gateway into grasping central Marxian notions like ‘ideology’ and ‘false consciousness’ in a way that isn’t reductive and conspiratorial.”

There was an entire recent thread here in which I was assured by several Marxists that false consciousness was not a central Marxian notion. Amusingly, one of them was named after the guy who first wrote about false consciousness.

129

LFC 12.19.14 at 4:48 pm

To return (before the thread closes) to Critique of the Gotha Programme, parts of which I was briefly re-looking at. I note these sentences: “The capitalist mode of production…rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, viz., labour power. Once the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically” (emphasis added).

First, there is the at least questionable “results automatically,” with its implication that political action cannot change the distribution of the “means of consumption” as long as “the material conditions of production” are owned by capitalists. Second, a question (to anyone): Did Marx acknowledge somewhere that this description of ‘the capitalist mode of production’ is an ideal type? Marx obviously knew about the existence of other people (or classes) than ‘pure’ proletarians owning nothing but their labor power and ‘pure’ capitalists expending no labor power at all, but did he discuss the ‘intermediate’ classes, e.g. shopkeepers, anywhere beyond some dismissive references to the petit bourgeoisie? (I assume the answer is probably yes, but I don’t remember where offhand.)

130

cassander 12.19.14 at 5:05 pm

@david

>Then your entire aside was irrelevant to begin with. You haven’t even come close to proving the initial point – Marx did not advocate ”death camps” or ”genocide”, he advocated successful revolutionary war.

Again, I cited marx calling for the destruction of whole classes and races, the definition of genocide.

>No it isn’t. I will not respond further. Adults are talking.

I was not aware it was considered “adult” around here to resort to insults when we are found to be factually in error.

@jthomas

>I believe that once a man starts a reign of political terror, he hardly ever stops

Pinochet did stop.

>When you first set up death squads, you’re making an open-ended commitment to kill as many people as it takes. Morally you are as bad as Stalin, starting from that decision.

“as many as it takes” is a flexible term. as it takes for what? Pol pot’s “it” required killing more than 1/3 of the population of his country. Stalin’s it killed more people overall, but considerably fewer as a share of his population. and Pinochet’s killed fewer people and a much smaller share of population than both. If we accept your formulation that once the killing starts it rarely stops until the goal is achieved, then it seems we should grant some sort of relative leeway to those who start killing for more minimal and its, and sanction those with maximal goals.

@plume

>They get most of the way to their total from famine.

when you forcibly requisition seed grain from farmers, and then choose not to feed them, you are murdering them, full stop. and the black book of communism most certainly does not include hitler’s murders in its total.

>And if it makes you feel better, take Soviet cigarettes out of the mix, though they’re still a product of capitalism’s evilness, and by rights should go into the Black Book of Capitalism.

I am not being defensive, I’m merely shaking my head at your absurdities. I’m fine with any method of evaluation you choose, what I will not abide is an insane double standard where deaths caused by cigarettes sold by the USSR wind up in the capitalist column. Your willingness to make that absurd claim says more about the feebleness of your arguments than anything I ever could.

131

Ze Kraggash 12.19.14 at 6:01 pm

“Again, I cited marx calling for the destruction of whole classes and races, the definition of genocide.”

Didn’t a few people already explain to you that you misunderstand the piece you quote?

132

Plume 12.19.14 at 6:08 pm

Cassander,

I didn’t add them. They aren’t in those totals. Deaths due to cigarettes aren’t even in the totals I found that put capitalist carnage at 1.6 billion. And I stated that right off the bat.

They should be. They should be in the Black Book of Capitalism, by all rights. But they aren’t in the totals given.

And, again, if you count famine in under “communism,” then you must count famine under capitalism. And it’s far, far higher under capitalism. As shown, just from the Late Victorian Holocausts alone, you get as high as 60 million.

Right now, in 2014, millions still die each year due to hunger under the system of capitalism. And using your own logic, when the richest 20% consume 85% of all resources, leaving just 15% for the rest, for the “bottom” 80%, that is “murder” as well. You can’t claim it’s only murder when “communists” do it. How very convenient for you.

http://www.spectrezine.org/global/chomsky.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Livre_Noir_du_Capitalisme
Men make their own history

133

Plume 12.19.14 at 6:09 pm

Cass, I have a reply awaiting mo d.

134

Anarcissie 12.19.14 at 6:11 pm

A person complaining about famine in the Soviet Union ought also to deal with the Irish and Indian famines occasioned largely by the exertion of liberal principles by the British. If Communism was responsible for the former, then liberalism is responsible for the latter. The Irish famine — which continued while food was being liberally exported from Ireland — actually approached Cambodian proportions.

135

Plume 12.19.14 at 6:15 pm

Will try a very short one without the links.

I didn’t add the ciggies. I said that the totals I found didn’t include them. It’s a straw man for you to then concentrate on that. I think they should be added. But they don’t need to be in order to take the Black Book of Capitalism many hundreds of millions beyond the other black book.

And, again, if you see famine as forced and as murder, then that is also the case in capitalist nations. And famines under capitalism were more numerous and devastating overall. If you count them in one column, you have to count them in the other.

136

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.14 at 6:16 pm

Amartya Sen is, in my opinion, the best writer about famine and the causes of mass deaths from famine. From his review of “Late Victorian Holocausts”:

Moreover, it is important to understand the roles of both economic and political power. We have to distinguish between (1) the limited reach of economic markets or public distribution systems, and (2) the limited opportunity of public participation and democratic governance. Imperial systems were severely guilty of both limitations (as Davis’s investigations clearly bring out), but they were not unique in their dual failure. Even though Davis’s historical study concentrates on what can be called imperialist famines, failures of a very similar kind have occurred in independent countries and even in formally Socialist ones. Indeed, in the 20th century the biggest famines occurred mostly in countries outside the domain of liberal capitalism, notably in China during 1958-61 (with possibly 30 million deaths), but also in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s, in Cambodia in the 1970’s and in North Korea in the very recent past (not to mention the dismal record of domestic military dictatorships in sub-Saharan Africa). Absence of economic power combined with a lack of political leverage condemned millions of people to unrelieved destitution and untimely death.

137

Plume 12.19.14 at 6:18 pm

Anarcissie @134,

I wouldn’t blame “liberalism” for those famines. I think the logic of capitalism leads to slavery, famine, hunger, poverty and genocide. Liberalism acts as a slight mitigating factor, but nearly enough of one. Capitalism without liberalism would be even worse than it is with it. And it’s still monstrous even with the liberalism.

138

Plume 12.19.14 at 6:20 pm

Sen is being much too kind to capitalist imperialism. Most famines happened outside the confines of the rich, western, capitalist nations, and within their colonies instead.

How convenient.

139

J. Parnell Thomas 12.19.14 at 6:32 pm

I’m not finding 马克思列宁毛泽东主义 on the internets, although I’m finding 马克思列宁主义 and 毛泽东思想-

主义 is often translated as “ism” and 思想 as “thought.”

I have a quote somewhere from one of my HUAC colleagues about how Stalin is less evil than Trotsky because he’s not Jewish. Available on request, in case anybody’s getting bored with the present direction of this thread.

140

LFC 12.19.14 at 7:52 pm

JPT 138
I’ve never figured out how to go from Chinese characters as you’re designating them here to English letters, though presumably there’s an HTML cribsheet about it somewhere.

141

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.14 at 7:58 pm

When you start writing things like “How convenient” about Sen’s work, then we get out of the area of 19th century Marx pre-advocating for bad regimes, and into the realm of contemporary Marxists post-defending bad regimes. That’s a much more important reason to be dismissive of Marxism and its failures than whatever was said in the 19th century.

142

Plume 12.19.14 at 8:04 pm

Rich @140,

Could you translate that into coherent English please? It made zero sense, unless it was meant as a complete non-sequitur.

143

js. 12.19.14 at 8:04 pm

Rich, do you have a link for Sen’s review of LVH? Is it available online? Would love to read it. Thanks.

144

js. 12.19.14 at 8:06 pm

Never mind, I found it.

145

Plume 12.19.14 at 8:20 pm

I have Sen’s The Idea of Justice at home, and read a bit of it, and then had to put it down. It was lacking, IMO, in real-world ties, and seems to float in the air, without any grounding in lived experience. The abstractions he did employ were mostly fine as they were, but I just couldn’t stick with his thought. It didn’t have objective correlatives, etc.

Should probably go back to it and give him another try.

146

js. 12.19.14 at 8:38 pm

Plume, Sen’s work on famine is pretty much unparalleled. I haven’t read Idea of Justice, but I am pretty certain that you would find his work on famine to be much more empirically grounded than his work in the theory of distributive justice.

147

Plume 12.19.14 at 8:50 pm

My comment was in regard to the short paragraph posted above, and just that paragraph of his review. Perhaps the problem was in the selection, not with Sen himself, and I should read much more of him.

But the point still stands. There was widespread famine in capitalist lands and their colonies. Mostly the latter. It’s completely absurd to count famine only in so-called “communist” countries and not give at least equal weight to those in capitalist countries.

The vast majority of it was preventable, and in wealthy capitalist countries much moreso. Capitalism concentrates wealth, income, resources, power, access, etc. etc. at the top. This naturally leads to impoverishment, hunger and famine elsewhere. Which is why, right now, the richest 20% of the world consumes 85% of all resources. If resources were distributed in an even remotely egalitarian way, there is virtually no hunger, poverty, etc. etc.

To me, it’s just pure home-team-cheerleading to ignore that. The older I get, the more frustrated and impatient I get with that kind of blindness.

148

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.14 at 8:55 pm

If you can’t read what I wrote at #140, then I don’t care to re-phrase it for you. As I thought, you haven’t read Sen’s work on famine, and I’m nearly sure that you didn’t understand the one paragraph that I quoted either except in the sense of “Oh no someone is criticizing 1960 China or 1930s Soviet Union”.

149

Plume 12.19.14 at 9:05 pm

Rich,

Reread what you wrote. It’s absurd, for a host of reasons:

When you start writing things like “How convenient” about Sen’s work, then we get out of the area of 19th century Marx pre-advocating for bad regimes, and into the realm of contemporary Marxists post-defending bad regimes. That’s a much more important reason to be dismissive of Marxism and its failures than whatever was said in the 19th century.

One person, on a bulletin board, writes “how convenient” regarding one paragraph of a review, and that’s enough for you, apparently, to dismiss Marxism out of hand.

Come on. You obviously dismissed it all long before I wrote those two words. But if you didn’t, that tells us everything we need to know about how very little it takes to change your mind, or change it again, and how Marxist texts themselves are irrelevant to you. Two words from a comment on a bulletin board? Who wouldn’t be completely changed by that?

150

stevenjohnson 12.19.14 at 9:17 pm

Amartya Sen was quoted as writing “Indeed, in the 20th century the biggest famines occurred mostly in countries outside the domain of liberal capitalism… in Cambodia in the 1970’s… (not to mention the dismal record of domestic military dictatorships in sub-Saharan Africa).”

I have no idea why Sen would imagine either Cambodia under Nixon’s bombing was not an unfortunate part of the US domain, or that the US wasn’t liberal capitalism. (Or for that matter how he knows Cambodia was socialist.) But the assertion that the massive bombing of an irrigation system was the same type of failure as that in the late Victorian holocausts is shockingly extreme. The implication that somehow African dictators were outside the liberal capitalist domain is merely garden variety dishonesty.

151

Plume 12.19.14 at 9:19 pm

And last comment on the issue:

I despise the Soviet system, and the Chinese system of the time in question through today.

What is it about some people that they think any criticism of capitalism must mean the critic is in favor of the USSR or China, etc.? It’s a bizarre and silly assumption. There have been hundreds of thousands of Marxists over the years who were/are even bigger critics of those systems than diehard capitalists. As Chomsky says, they just made it nearly impossible to implement real socialism, as opposed to their perversion of it, their state capitalism, etc. The USSR and China set back the cause of real socialist, emancipatory, egalitarian, truly democratic thought and goals by a century by NOT implementing them in any way, shape or form. Those thoughts and goals get the black eye, because too many people believe they were implemented and failed.

Speaking just for myself, I want a stateless, classless society to be our future, and for us to move in that direction as quickly as possible. I’m an anti-authoritarian, egalitarian, radical democrat (not Democrat), and despise any semblance of autocracy. Which is also why I’m an anti-capitalist.

G’day, all.

152

J. Parnell Thomas 12.19.14 at 9:59 pm

LFC: if you paste them into google translations and select Chinese or “Detect Language” it will give you a romanization, and there are a lot of other online dictionaries/translators that can do the same thing.

153

engels 12.19.14 at 10:18 pm

“[India] had, in terms of morbidity, mortality and longevity, suffered an excess in mortality over China of close to 4 [million] a year during the same period [of the Great Leap Forward]… Thus, in this one geographical area alone, more deaths resulted from ‘this failed capitalist experiment’ (more than 100 million by 1980) than can be contributed to the ‘failed communist experiment’ all over the world since 1917.”

-Amartya Sen

154

J. Parnell Thomas 12.19.14 at 10:20 pm

Bad link.

155

Rich Puchalsky 12.19.14 at 10:21 pm

I agree that that is what Amartya Sen wrote, engels. Which is why it’s so pathetic that all I have to do is quote one paragraph in which he criticizes both capitalist and communist regimes and get Khmer Rouge apologetics @ 149.

156

bob mcmanus 12.19.14 at 10:33 pm

I am unable to reconcile Sen’s statements of 135

Indeed, in the 20th century the biggest famines occurred mostly in countries outside the domain of liberal capitalism,

with 152

Thus, in this one geographical area alone, more deaths resulted from ‘this failed capitalist experiment’ (more than 100 million by 1980) than can be contributed to the ‘failed communist experiment’ all over the world since 1917.”

Is India outside the domain of liberal capitalism?

157

cassander 12.19.14 at 10:37 pm

@Anarcissie

I’m perfectly happy to address the irish famine. the British spent a centuries beating down the irish, forcing them into tiny plots of terrible land for reasons that were largely political and religious. This jim crow esque system starts to get repealed in the early 19th century, but by 1845, most of the irish were still crowded onto tiny, marginal plots and less than a generation removed from hardcore feudalism. So when a blight hits, these people are royally fucked. the british government responded with some meager efforts at aid. Now, let us compare to the USSR. when collectivization ordered by stalin made the most productive farming region in russia less productive, he ordered seed grain seized from the peasants by force. when people started to die, Stalin denied that there was a problem, refused to send relief, refused to allow international relief, and sent soldiers to prevent the ukrainians from fleeing to areas where there was more food. how people do not see that the latter was much more deliberate, and thus much worse, is beyond me. as for the bengal famine, it was caused by the japanese invading the region from which bengal imported its rice and eating it themselves. relief was largely impossible because of the u-boat war. it cannot meaningfully be called a consequence of capitalism.

@stevenjohnson

>I have no idea why Sen would imagine either Cambodia under Nixon’s bombing was not an unfortunate part of the US domain,

the famine under the khmer rouge wasn’t caused by bombings, it was caused by the khmer rounding up and executing millions of people, including a fair number of the farmers. It is absurd to blame the US for people who starved in a famine that took place years after their involvement in the region, under a government that came to power with the support of its enemies.

@plume

>But the point still stands. There was widespread famine in capitalist lands and their colonies. Mostly the latter. It’s completely absurd to count famine only in so-called “communist” countries and not give at least equal weight to those in capitalist countries.

No one is suggesting we do this, please stop beating up on straw men. the famines that happened in capitalist and even colonial countries were, on the whole much less bad and much less frequent than in communist countries. famines were, in fact, endemic in human society before the advent of capitalism, and as capitalism has spread their number and severity have declined. Facts are stubborn things.

>What is it about some people that they think any criticism of capitalism must mean the critic is in favor of the USSR or China, etc.? It’s a bizarre and silly assumption

Because fellow travellers like you keep insisting on defending the record of the USSR and China.

>As Chomsky says, they just made it nearly impossible to

chomsky defended the PRC during the height of the cultural revolution, a decade after the disaster of the great leap forward was well know. After world war two, anyone who was even vaguely associated with fascism became persona non-grata in polite society, and rightly so. the same treatment should be meted out to those who spent the cold war apologizing for those tyrannies. If Carl Schmitt said that hitler didn’t implement real naziism, he’d be laughed out of the room, chomsky’s musings should be giving a similar level of respect.

158

bob mcmanus 12.19.14 at 10:41 pm

Maybe in the one case Sen is talking about famines and in the other general morbidity but he apparently does emphasize one or the other as a matter of rhetorical…convenience.

Like the analytical Marxists, Nussbaum and Sen are not on my reading list. Way up above, I mentioned Appadurai. Banaji. I do need to read more about India.

159

cassander 12.19.14 at 10:43 pm

@engels

india openly proclaimed itself a socialist state complete with 5 year plans during the period in question. to call it a capitalist experiment strains credulity. More generally, Sen’s comparison of india to china ignores the fact that china was engulfed in one the largest civil wars in history from 1920-49 and on top of that was invade the japanese. He essentially give Mao credit for lives saved by the end of a war for which he was a prime instigator. And despite that he still feels compelled to admit that communist famines were worse.

160

LFC 12.19.14 at 10:52 pm

JPT @151
Thanks. I’ll have to try that.
Very early on in my own blog, several yrs ago, someone left a series of such characters in a comment box, and I’m afraid I just deleted them, which I have since regretted. I’ve no idea whether they were spam or a real comment. Might have lost a reader in Japan or China, for all I know. Oh well, c’est la vie.

161

LFC 12.19.14 at 10:58 pm

mcmanus 157
I do need to read more about India

Try Naipaul, An Area of Darkness and A Wounded Civilization; that should get your blood moving.

[Note to the humor-impaired: This is a j-o-k-e.]

162

bob mcmanus 12.19.14 at 11:00 pm

159: For Japanese, I have rikuchan hovering translator embedded in my browser. Translate very well into english (in pieces, with grammar help), but doesn’t do romaji. rikuchan did get the “thought” above but mostly useless for Chinese. I don’t know if there is a Mandarin or Cantonese equivalent.

163

bob mcmanus 12.19.14 at 11:05 pm

Yechh rikaichan! I am always doing that.

Googling finds “cantofish” based on rikaichan.

164

LFC 12.19.14 at 11:06 pm

P.s. more serious now:
I get the free e-mail South Asia Daily from Foreign Policy/New Am. Foundation, and while it’s sometimes more detail than I need and they tend to pile up, I think it’s a pretty good way to keep abreast of what’s going on in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and to a perhaps lesser extent Bangladesh. It seems quite objective, aggregating and summarizing material mainly from the regional English-language press and the Western press.

165

J. Parnell Thomas 12.19.14 at 11:11 pm

google translations also romanizes Japanese. I guess automated translation from Mandarin is harder because the grammar rules are so simple and loose, and meaning so dependent on context.

166

LFC 12.19.14 at 11:16 pm

stevenjohnson 149:
The implication that somehow African dictators were outside the liberal capitalist domain is merely garden variety dishonesty.

This is garden-variety nonsense. They were not in “the liberal capitalist domain” in the sense of not being liberal capitalist systems/regimes, which clearly seems to be Sen’s meaning here.

167

Ze Kraggash 12.19.14 at 11:29 pm

@150 “I despise the Soviet system, and the Chinese system of the time in question through today.”

Out of curiosity: does this mean that you prefer liberal capitalism to authoritarian socialism (post-stalinist Soviet/Cuban kind)?

168

Plume 12.20.14 at 12:44 am

Cassander,

I do not defend the record of the USSR and China. As mentioned a thousand times, I oppose their systems vehemently. They never instituted actual socialism, but socialism got the black eye. I despise what they did on humanitarian grounds, ethical grounds, moral grounds, and for their perversion of socialism that would have made their actions impossible if the real thing had been implemented.

In short, I’m against all systems of oppression, which is why I’m an anticapitalist. It’s one of those systems of oppression. I know it’s a tough concept for some people, but we don’t have to choose between the USSR and capitalism. Imagine that!

And you’ve really gone down through the rabbit hole with your nonsense about famines under capitalist countries, supposedly not being severe or frequent. We can easily attribute hundreds of millions deaths to capitalist countries, due to famine, genocide and slavery. As mentioned, the Late Victorian Holocausts alone put the famine totals for just that one period up to 60 million.

Capitalism concentrates wealth, power, privilege, access and resources at the top. Its internal logic leads to famine, genocide, apartheid and slavery. The internal logic of actual socialism leads us starkly away from those horrors.

I’ll repeat: right now, right at this moment, in a world completely dominated by capitalism, just 85 people hold as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion. The richest 20% hoover up 85% of all resources, leaving just 15% for the “bottom” 80%. And those numbers used to be worse. Several million humans die each year of hunger. Now. Today. And those numbers used to be worse. The world wildlife fund says we will need two entire earths by 2030 just to meet demands, and that if everyone consumed like an average American, we’d need four.

Face it. Capitalism is immoral and unsustainable.

169

Plume 12.20.14 at 12:49 am

Ze Kraggish,

You’re kind of asking me if I prefer liver or sardines — allowing for the radical difference in importance, etc. etc.

I despise both capitalism and all other authoritarian systems, including the USSR and Chinese State Capitalism. They’re all anti-democratic.

But, given the choice between the USSR under Gorbachev, and the capitalist kleptocracy that followed, which entailed a murderous transition to that system which killed at least 15 million Russians and many more millions in the Soviet Bloc . . . . I’d take Gorbachev.

A lesser of two evils choice.

170

J Thomas 12.20.14 at 1:01 am

#156 cassander

>I have no idea why Sen would imagine either Cambodia under Nixon’s bombing was not an unfortunate part of the US domain,

the famine under the khmer rouge wasn’t caused by bombings, it was caused by the khmer rounding up and executing millions of people, including a fair number of the farmers. It is absurd to blame the US for people who starved in a famine that took place years after their involvement in the region, under a government that came to power with the support of its enemies.

The USA knew that Cambodia was reaching famine when we offered to feed them if they supported the Lon Nol government. That was not only years later. When the Lon Nol government collapsed we took the rice we had bought to feed Cambodia and dumped it on the regional market at 10 cents on the dollar, which was pretty bad for rice farmers in nearby nations.

The first year’s famine was partly due to US bombing, partly to the NVA, the Khmer Rouge had a little to do with it too, particularly by not surrendering. I’m not going to give details because nobody ever likes it when I do. It doesn’t make anybody look good.

The second year’s famine was due entirely to the Khmer Rouge. They didn’t contact other governments and beg for help, they didn’t offer great big concessions for help, they thought they could grow enough food for their reduced population by themselves, and it didn’t work. If they had managed to contact the USA and apologize, and promise to surrender, and offer their leaders for war crimes trials, and help the USA set up a capitalist democracy there with US capitalists assisting them to rebuild their economy to fit into US trade, and with US military bases to threaten their neighbors, we might have sent them enough food to survive. So the second year was entirely their own fault. But that first year was partly ours.

Do you ever feel like you are a strawman opponent yourself? I could imagine that it might not feel that way to you.

Anyway, all this history doesn’t tell us about Marx any more than the history of christianity tells us about Jesus.

171

Plume 12.20.14 at 1:14 am

Cassander @159,

The period in question — the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries — was under British rule. India couldn’t have proclaimed itself anything. It was a conquered nation and a part of the British Empire. The famines happened while the capitalist British ruled the roost, after they had come in and destroyed the indigenous commons, privatizing these, selling off the land to capitalists.

And we can curse the Brits for being the primary launching pad for the horror that was and is capitalism in the first place. Read The Invention of Capitalism by Michael Perelman for a play by play. It’s helpful to read books about American capitalism along with it, especially with regard to slavery.

THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism is a good place to start.

172

Plume 12.20.14 at 1:15 am

Another try at the link:

The Half has Never Been Told

173

Plume 12.20.14 at 1:19 am

J Thomas,

Anyway, all this history doesn’t tell us about Marx any more than the history of christianity tells us about Jesus.

That is very true.

Cassander, I missed it the first time. Sorry, but Chomsky never “defended the PRC” under Mao. You’re just making shht up.

174

cassander 12.20.14 at 1:32 am

@plume

>s mentioned, the Late Victorian Holocausts alone put the famine totals for just that one period up to 60 million

that’s quite a bit step down from your previous 1.6 billion, and still dramatically less than the number the communists killed in a shorter period of time.

>I’ll repeat: right now, right at this moment, in a world completely dominated by capitalism

and yet, global standards of living have never been higher, and famine deaths have never been lower, despite a much larger population. “the world is not perfect” is not an argument against capitalism, it’s a childish fantasy that spent the 20th century getting people killed by the millions.

>which entailed a murderous transition to that system which killed at least 15 million Russians and many more millions in the Soviet Bloc . . . . I’d take Gorbachev

From during the 1980s, about 1.6 million russians died each year. during the 90s, the number rose to about 2 million. So even if we forget that indicators like LE are back above their soviet peak, assume that the transition continues to this day, and completely ignore demographic changes like an aging population, it’s still mathematically impossible for the transition to have killed as many russians as you claim, because not that many extra russians have died yet. Of course, I hardly expect evidence as soft as mathematical proof to change your mind, you know The Truth….

175

Plume 12.20.14 at 1:38 am

Cassander,

It’s not quite a bit of a step down. We were just talking famines. And it’s not dramatically less. Famines under so-called “communist” countries doesn’t come close to that mythical 100 million.

The 1.6 billion figure includes many other sources of capitalist carnage. Not just famine. It includes genocide, slavery, yearly hunger stats, wars, coups, etc, etc. You keep shifting the goal posts within your own posts, and sometimes within your sentences.

176

Plume 12.20.14 at 1:43 am

And the “proof” for the conservatively estimated 15 million deaths, due to the transition from Gorbachev’s Russia to the propertarian utopia which followed is readily available on the Net.

I’ll link to the very conservative Economist for part of the story, so you’ll feel comfortable with the assessment:

http://www.economist.com/node/12494500

And I’m waiting for your first attempt to support your assertions. Speaking of “proof.”

177

cassander 12.20.14 at 1:48 am

@J Thomas

>But that first year was partly ours.

my understanding was that most of the deaths in cambodia took place a few years into the reign, not right away. And the cambodians were unique in that their ratio of executions to starvations was nearly 1:1. But if I’m wrong on that, please correct me.

>Anyway, all this history doesn’t tell us about Marx any more than the history of christianity tells us about Jesus

cambodia by itself tells us very little, cambodia in combination with all the other communist states tells us a lot. If every national single government established by christians rapidly turned into, by the standards of its day, an aggressively murderous, totalitarian state, I would definitely start to cast aspersions about jesus, or at least about his philosophy. Every government national established by communists has turned into such a state, so I cast aspersions about Marx.

178

Plume 12.20.14 at 1:49 am

And here’s one of the studies showing how the mass privatization and “shock therapy” of the transition led to millions of Russians dying, as well as millions in other Soviet Bloc nations.

The Lancet

179

J. Parnell Thomas 12.20.14 at 1:49 am

I’ve got a Marx-Engels Reader that I hadn’t looked through very much, and I’ve found the suggestions that were made a while back helpful.

180

Plume 12.20.14 at 1:59 am

Cassander,

First off, just as it’s extremely rare to find a “Christian” who actually follows the teachings of Jesus, it’s also extremely rare to find people who follow(ed) Marx — to any real degree. What he actually wrote. Those who do are generally limited to analyzing capitalism from their university chairs (like David Harvey or Richard D. Wolff) or utilizing some of his methods to teach Critical Theory, or Literary Criticism in general, etc. etc..

Given that the USSR and China had absolutely nothing to do with socialism, much less “communism” — which is the absence of the state after real socialism becomes so integrated and so naturalized, the state apparatus is no longer needed — it’s ridiculous to blame Marx for systems and results he would have opposed with every fiber of his being.

And, to save you the time: No. That is NOT a defense of totalitarian regimes. I am 100% opposed to them. That is a defense of socialist theory which has never, ever, not once, in all of modern history, been implemented on any national scale.

That is a defense of something that never happened. I condemn the perversions of those theories that were instituted. As would Marx.

181

cassander 12.20.14 at 1:59 am

Plume, you cannot prove 15 million deaths from a statistical correlation between a privatization index of dubious utility and the short term death rate of men from 15-59, the most volatile segment of the population. you especially can’t do it when 15 million extra people haven’t actually died.

182

Plume 12.20.14 at 2:04 am

You haven’t supported your contention that 15 million “extra persons” didn’t die.

Again, I’m still waiting for your first supporting link — for anything.

183

Plume 12.20.14 at 2:12 am

Marx never wrote anything regarding how to set up and structure a socialist society. He never put down any blueprint for it. The vast majority of his writings were nothing but analyses of capitalism. But when he did write about other matters, it was about maximizing human potential and social justice.

Pinning totalitarian systems on someone whose core philosophy was emancipatory in nature, and all about maximizing human potential . . . is a bit like blaming fire-fighters for the arson they battle.

184

cassander 12.20.14 at 2:16 am

don’t trust me, ask the russian government, general population replacement indices, second sub category:

http://www.gks.ru/bgd/regl/B13_16/Main.htm

185

cassander 12.20.14 at 2:24 am

>Given that the USSR and China had absolutely nothing to do with socialism, much less “communism” — which is the absence of the state after real socialism becomes so integrated and so naturalized, the state apparatus is no longer needed — it’s ridiculous to blame Marx for systems and results he would have opposed with every fiber of his being.

this claim is simply offensive. Every single communist regime had socialists and communists in the west proclaiming that they were true socialists and communists. few ever recanted these beliefs. When fellow socialists like Orwell pointed out monstrous crimes these regimes committed, they were shouted down and denounced as traitors to the cause by other socialists and communists. Those to Orwell’s right were, of course, labeled selfish reactionary running dogs for capitalism. It is not ridiculous to blame on marx what millions of marxists around the world spent decades calling marxism in action.

186

Plume 12.20.14 at 2:53 am

Cassander,

this claim is simply offensive. Every single communist regime had socialists and communists in the west proclaiming that they were true socialists and communists. few ever recanted these beliefs. When fellow socialists like Orwell pointed out monstrous crimes these regimes committed, they were shouted down and denounced as traitors to the cause by other socialists and communists. Those to Orwell’s right were, of course, labeled selfish reactionary running dogs for capitalism. It is not ridiculous to blame on marx what millions of marxists around the world spent decades calling marxism in action.

Offensive? What is offensive is your pulling numbers out of a hat and making vague, unsupported generalizations. Yes, all of those communist-in-name-only regimes led to SOME socialists and communists making those claims. But by no means were they the norm. And, yes, SOME may have shouted down and denounced them as traitors, just as Bush supporters did for their hero. But you conveniently leave out the huge numbers of socialists, communists and anarchists who fought against totalitarianism, of any kind. They fought inside Russia and were killed for it, by Stalin, among others. And they dominated all resistance movements, for example, in the fight against fascism and nazism. Do you give Marx credit for that? Of course not.

And then your final sentence? Millions of Marxists? Sorry. But that’s complete nonsense.

And you forget the biggest key. In every case — and there weren’t that many “socialist” revolutions to begin with — in every case, they had revolutions against dictators or tyrants of one kind or another. They revolted because of systems of oppression and tyrants in place, and their nations were thoroughly impoverished prior to those revolutions. Did you ever stop to think that the degree of bloodshed involved in each revolution was tied to the degree of oppression they faced? People like you talk as if these revolutions happened in some wonderful setting, that they went from some wonderland of freedom and equality and exchanged it for totalitarian hell. And, you act as if the capitalist West had nothing to do with the post-revolutionary dynamic.

Sorry, but American and other Western capitalist nations have always tried to crush leftist, popular rebellion, foment civil wars, establish embargoes, sanctions, wars, coups, etc. etc. etc. . . . Given the fact that whenever “liberal democracies” went to war, they radically curbed domestic civil rights and often basically put constitutions away, is it surprising that these nascent, impoverished countries, dealing with external threats from us, would do the same?

Best way to make a country far more autocratic is to endlessly threaten it with “regime change” in one form or another.

Marx can’t be judged in a vacuum. His writings can’t be blamed for the myriad of factors which had nada to do with anything he ever wrote about. And he said, in the rare times he did talk about revolution, that it should be in mature capitalist economies only, and done in conjunction with dozens of other nations. None of those revolutionaries listened to his words.

Marx would have gladly taken bloodless, velvet revolutions over violent ones, and those are possible right now in “liberal democracies.” All we need to do is swap our massively destruction economic system for one with social justice already baked in. Full democracy, including the economy. Marx would have backed that to the nth degree.

187

J Thomas 12.20.14 at 3:00 am

Plame, I want to ask you a personal favor. Would you please stop responding to Cassander for a couple of days on the topic of whether the “communist” authoritarians were even worse than the “capitalist” authoritarians?

I am not interested in this question. I suspect you are not really interested in debating this question with Cassander. I suspect nobody here but Cassander is interested, though I could be wrong about that and maybe somebody else will want to argue with him.

There have been some people saying interesting things, and maybe they’ve been driven out by the smell of this dead horse, and possibly if you stop beating it they might come back. Or maybe they were done.

I have participated in similar travesties, not like I have a right to ask you for that and expect you to go along. I’m just asking on the chance it might do some good.

188

Plume 12.20.14 at 3:04 am

J Thomas,

NP. Will be happy to comply.

189

LFC 12.20.14 at 3:04 am

cassander @182
It is not ridiculous to blame on marx what millions of marxists around the world spent decades calling marxism in action.

Of course it is ridiculous to blame on Marx what millions of (self-proclaimed) Marxists around the world spent decades calling Marxism in action — if there is evidence that Marx would have disapproved of a lot of what such people did, and there is such evidence, in Marx’s own writings. For heaven’s sake, just glance at the description of the “higher phase of communist society” in Critique of the Gotha Program. Glance at The German Ideology. Look at the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Have you ever read anything Marx actually wrote, or have you just gone on the interwebs and ripped a couple of things completely out of context, as you did earlier?

190

LFC 12.20.14 at 3:11 am

P.s. And Anarcissie, way upthread, was right to recommend Harrington’s Socialism (though its interpretation of Marx was not uncontroversial). Cassander could be benefit from looking at it. Of course, he (or she; I assume it’s a he) won’t.

191

LFC 12.20.14 at 3:13 am

Sorry, messed up the close-italics tag.

192

LFC 12.20.14 at 3:24 am

Plume 168
re several million dying each year of hunger: An at least equally pertinent figure is the number of chronically malnourished, which fluctuates from year to year but recently has hovered pretty close to one billion.

193

cassander 12.20.14 at 3:44 am

@Plume

>But by no means were they the norm.

Yes, they were. Fucking pulitzer prizes were handed out for peddling stalin’s lies. Obituaries like this were written when he died. Praise of the USSR and company was ubiquitous until the end of the cold war.

>— in every case, they had revolutions against dictators or tyrants of one kind or another

and in every case they were worse than what they replaced.

>that it should be in mature capitalist economies only, and done in conjunction with dozens of other nations.

this argument would be more compelling if the world’s marxists did not drop it immediately in 1917, and proceed to cheer the USSR on for decades of tyranny.

>Best way to make a country far more autocratic is to endlessly threaten it with “regime change” in one form or another.

the communist regime in russia did not become autocratic, it was that way from the second lenin seized power.

>Marx can’t be judged in a vacuum

I agree. I think he should be judged on the basis of the results produced by people who claimed to be his followers. it is you who seeks to judge him in a vacuum, as if his theories had never had any real life implications. But I give up, you don’t just willfully ignore history, you willfully ignore math that contradicts your world view. What am I to do with some so utterly convinced of his own brilliant righteousness?

@lfc

> Have you ever read anything Marx actually wrote, or have you just gone on the interwebs and ripped a couple of things completely out of context, as you did earlier?

Yes, I have. And you can go on as much as you like about marx’s vision of a stateless society, that doesn’t change the fact that he said you needed revolutionary dictatorship and terror to get there. You guys like to leave that part out, but there is nothing in Lenin that Marx did not presage.

194

David 12.20.14 at 3:59 am

Something needs to be done about the rightist commentators here who have been consistently derailing conversations over the last 6 months or so. They have drastically reduced the quality of these comment sections.

195

David 12.20.14 at 4:01 am

If I wanted to hear what they had to say, I could go to Politico or Fox News or Yahoo News. This is supposed to be a leftish academic blog and the comments don’t really reflect that anymore. It is a disrupting tactic that the moderators are letting this handful of posters get away with.

196

Plume 12.20.14 at 4:16 am

LFC,

This is true. I spoke only of deaths. But malnourishment is a kind of death in life, and it encompasses many hundreds of millions, if not more than a billion.

Three billion humans live on less than $2.00 a day, and, as mentioned, just the richest 85 humans hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion.

Any system with inequality levels even remotely approaching capitalism in its best days could not be considered less than a complete and utter failure.

In short, only by ignoring roughly 80% of the world’s population and its straits could one possibly consider capitalism anything other than monstrous — in effects, structural logic or conception. And I haven’t even mentioned capitalism’s impact on the climate, wildlife or the planet overall. Its Grow or Die imperative — see Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything — is killing us all.

197

gianni 12.20.14 at 4:19 am

“there is nothing in Lenin that Marx did not presage”

this is, of course, not at all true, and would have been laughable if spoken to an assorted group of self-described Marxists in 1914. This notion that Leninism is a simple extension of Marx’s own writings is not an accurate characterization of the literature. this ready association between Marx and Lenin was only won through a combination of revolutionary violence, state repression, and historical circumstance. people who make this ready association are themselves – usually unknowingly/unwittingly – buying into Soviet propaganda of the highest order.

the historical fact that Lenin was the most successful interpreter of Marx from a political standpoint has little bearing on the hermeneutic point, unless you have an ideological axe to grind. which it is obvious you do.

Furthermore, the notion that any state could coherently embody an intellectual doctrine – as if the state form itself did not have its own proclivities as a sociological entity – is quite frankly absurd. this hearkens back to Cold War thinking: the idea that there were two states, embodying differing ideologies, competing on the world stage.

The fact that the observed behavior of these two states was in many ways highly similar was lost on the ideologues and Cold Warriors. Yet both of these superpowers were actively suppressing populations domestically, expanding state bureaucracies, concentrating power and wealth into the hands of a credentialed elite, fostering a military-industrial complex, subverting local rule around the world in service to their geopolitical objectives.

It is almost as if these are behaviors natural to states, and especially superpowers, regardless of the principles espoused by their romanticized mythic ‘founders’.

Would it make sense for me to impugn the notion that ‘all men (sic) are created equal’ with the fact that the US continues to have extreme racial disparities in wealth and in the justice system? Would you accept the argument: the idea that people are guaranteed the rights of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ is dangerous because the US was founded on those notions and the US has the largest prison population in the world?

Surely those are bad arguments against those political ideas. We should engage them on their own ground, or explore how the particular form of US society has fallen short of these founding ideals, rather than just write those notions off as dangerous.

Yet you make a similar argument against the political ideas of Marx using the USSR? Pray tell – how is this latter case so much different?

198

Donald Johnson 12.20.14 at 4:38 am

Plume has supplied some interesting links. The rest of the argument is something we’ve all seen countless times (and maybe engaged in ourselves) but good links are always welcome.

199

Plume 12.20.14 at 4:43 am

Very well said, Gianni,

All of it. But especially here:

The fact that the observed behavior of these two states was in many ways highly similar was lost on the ideologues and Cold Warriors. Yet both of these superpowers were actively suppressing populations domestically, expanding state bureaucracies, concentrating power and wealth into the hands of a credentialed elite, fostering a military-industrial complex, subverting local rule around the world in service to their geopolitical objectives.

This is also Chomsky’s point, when he notes, correctly, how both superpowers distorted and propagandized the word “socialism” for quite different reasons, obviously.

And on that note, I bid all a goodnight.

200

stevenjohnson 12.20.14 at 4:53 am

LFC @166 “This is garden-variety nonsense. They were not in “the liberal capitalist domain” in the sense of not being liberal capitalist systems/regimes, which clearly seems to be Sen’s meaning here.” The two contradictory quotes (and bad link) frpm Sen make your claim that his meaning is clear is unjustified. Even worse for you, the notion that you can pretend a Mobutu is not part of the capitalist system (which is dominated by the liberal capitalist US) is twaddle. If a supposedly illiberal dictatorship doesn’t have mass trade unions, nationalized property, capital controls, an independent currency, nonaligned foreign policy, state investment, a welfare state and such, but does have privilege foreign investors, elites moving loot abroad, foreign control of currency, repression of trade unions, military security ties with great powers, and so forth, it is an integral part of the liberal capitalist system. Separating the less attractive results of the world capitalist system from the supposedly good parts is polemics, not analysis. The Sen type of approach would lead us to think that South Sudan’s famines were due to their cultural inferiority and had nothing, nothing! I tell you!, to do with oil (traded on an international liberal capitalist market.)

J Thomas @187 The political purposes in black propaganda about socialism is why the supposedly dead horse will continue to be beaten. If nothing else, the numbers have to be falsified so that the argument that Stalin and Mao were far worse than Hitler can be maintained. Or, even more necessary, as in the Cambodian case, as a cover for “our” own crimes. Unremitting hostility to dead Communists I have found to be symptomatic of hatred for living workers. The more violent the struggle against them, the more necessary it is to revile any old enemies. Or at least any victorious ones. Luxemburg dumped in a canal, Gramsci dying in a prison, Trotsky with an ice pick in his head, Che shot up in Bolivia…There can be some smidgen of toleration for the losers.

201

cassander 12.20.14 at 5:12 am

>The fact that the observed behavior of these two states was in many ways highly similar was lost on the ideologues and Cold Warriors.

Equally, one could say that the differences in observed behavior are lost by those like you. the US did not starve millions of its own citizens to death. this strikes me as an important difference.

>It is almost as if these are behaviors natural to states, and especially superpowers, regardless of the principles espoused by their romanticized mythic ‘founders’.

Again, whatever you think of the present United States, its crimes pale in comparison to those the communist states committed. the equivalency you create is false. I am happy to admit that the modern US is imperfect, that does not mean the USSR, and all other communist states, were much worse.

>Would it make sense for me to impugn the notion that ‘all men (sic) are created equal’ with the fact that the US continues to have extreme racial disparities in wealth and in the justice system?

If those disparities were deliberately created in service to the creed “all men (sic) are created equal” then yes, it would. Particularly if there were a couple dozen such countries founded on said creed and all of them deliberately set up similar disparities for the same reason.

@ plume

>Three billion humans live on less than $2.00 a day, and, as mentioned, just the richest 85 humans hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion.

I believe what you meant to say was the lowest share of the population in history is living on less than 2 dollars a day. But anyone who quotes klein has a very tenuous connection to reality.

202

Anarcissie 12.20.14 at 5:38 am

cassander 12.19.14 at 10:37 pm @ 157:
‘@Anarcissie
I’m perfectly happy to address the irish famine. …’

No, you’re not. You’re quibbling about mass murder.

Plume 12.19.14 at 6:18 pm @ 137 —
Capitalism is the economic system of liberalism.

203

J Thomas 12.20.14 at 9:09 am

#200 StevenJohnson

The political purposes in black propaganda about socialism is why the supposedly dead horse will continue to be beaten.

Yes, I see.

Plume, I was wrong that it was only a digression between you and Cassander. There are enough others to continue debating him that it clearly won’t do any good for you to quit. So do whatever you want, and I’ll just accept whatever happens.

204

J Thomas 12.20.14 at 9:19 am

#195 David

This is supposed to be a leftish academic blog and the comments don’t really reflect that anymore. It is a disrupting tactic that the moderators are letting this handful of posters get away with.

The blog officially asserts the right to moderate at will.

From the comments policy:

If your comments are blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic we will delete them and ban you from the site. The same goes for comments which are personally defamatory or insulting or which seek to derail a thread through provocation of one kind or another. If your comments strike us as stupid or irrelevant we may also delete them in the interests of keeping the conversation at a reasonable level.
Commenters who who routinely seek to make marginally relevant debating points may be barred to make room for those with a substantive contribution to the discussion. It is up to us. Individual members of CT may ban particular readers from commenting on their posts, based on their own criteria for constructive discussion, or we may reach a group decision on a ban from the site as a whole.

Of course there are people who shamelessly come back with new names. It would be an effort to keep removing them, like pulling up crabgrass.

If they were more King Stork and less King Log some of them might go after me, since in their opinion I might make provocative, stupid, irrelevant debating points. But it’s their rules and they get to choose what to do.

205

Ze Kraggash 12.20.14 at 9:27 am

Plume: “But, given the choice between the USSR under Gorbachev, and the capitalist kleptocracy that followed, which entailed a murderous transition to that system which killed at least 15 million Russians and many more millions in the Soviet Bloc . . . . I’d take Gorbachev. ”

You can’t take both the USSR and Gorby, because Gorby was the guy (as much as we can credit one person for this sort of thing) who destroyed the USSR (instead of reforming it). He destabilized it, and then gave it up, capitulated, pretty much unconditionally. What followed in the next decade (call it capitalist kleptocracy or simply looting by the conqueror) clearly demonstrated that the Cold War was a real war, a war for survival, at least on their part. Of course this is just one interpretation of the events, other interpretations exist, but since we all here are so concerned about the untimely deaths: I think I read somewhere a few days ago that this year is the first one since 1990 (or 91?) with a positive natural population growth in the russian federation.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 1:37 pm

I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. I used to be one of those people who, when they heard terrible things said about America, or “Western Democracies,” would pretty much immediately say, No way! We never did that! Are you crazy?!! I was a liberal then, and while critical of many things we did, would react strongly to a Chomsky or a Zinn-like critique, not to mention a Marxist or an ecosocialist one. I couldn’t see then what is so clear to me now. I refused to believe that we, on balance, were not “the good guys” to their “bad guys.” The bad guys being pretty much whomever we chose to fight at the time — with some caveats even back then. And while I had cast off other forms of naivete and manichean thinking, like Levantine religions, I still had not rid myself of the fog of propaganda that follows Americans around throughout their lives — like a false friend whispering in your ear.

But I opened my eyes. It took some time. But it happened. Little by little, and then in leaps and bounds, and I can never go back.

So when someone waxes triumphantly about America or capitalism or so-called “Western Democracies,” I have to smile before I get angry. Because I remember that I used to be that guy. And then I woke up.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 1:57 pm

For instance. If we’re honest with ourselves, and we really, really look at our history, and we don’t just dismiss things out of hand, and we don’t just view things from the POV of “middle class white guys,” it’s pretty much impossible to brag about our past, even in relation to the USSR.

We had 250 years of slavery (and then 100 more of Jim Crow), which goes hand and glove with capitalism. They’re actually THE perfect fit. Capitalism is the purchase of human labor (as a commodity) for the purpose of producing goods and services which result in surplus value, which is then appropriated (exploitation) by the capitalist for him- or her- self. Our current form also uses the model of unpaid labor, just like slavery. It pays for part of the work day, though, unlike chattel slavery. But that’s an innovation from the base of slavery, not some radical departure. And capitalism gets the “credit” for slavery on its watch, in its territory.

Okay. So, again, we had 250 years of slavery, with millions of deaths and untold oppression and horror due to that system. Then 100 years more of ugly, horrific treatment of the now supposedly “free” former slaves and their descendents. For sustained brutality, cruelty, racism, sadism, etc. etc. . . . the USSR can’t compete with that.

And then there’s our genocide of Native peoples, starting in the 1600s and going on for nearly three centuries. The death totals vary, depending upon the researchers, but it’s at least in the tens of millions, and all the colonial powers in Europe had their millions in genocides across the Americas, Africa, Australia and so on as well. Congo alone is more then 10 million. Chalk those up for Team Capitalism as well.

And we have the treatment of indigenous peoples who weren’t technically enslaved, and escaped genocide, but were treated sometimes worse than slaves, and sadistically as a matter of course. Death in life, basically. In the Americas, Africa and Asia. Team Capitalism gets the notch for that evil as well, and the US had its share of the exploitation and mass cruelty.

Wars, coups, “regime change,” following the orders of some corporation pissed off at X, Y or Z country for refusing admittance? America would send in the marines.

Shock doctrine, shock therapy, etc. etc. Millions dying in transitions to capitalism. And tens of millions more due to pollution created as a necessary byproduct of capitalism.

On balance, as horrible as the USSR was, we’re worse. Sorry if it hurts the feelings of the home teams cheerleaders, but we’re worse, and for far longer.

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J Thomas 12.20.14 at 2:18 pm

I tried to post here and failed and it didn’t say it was moderated, it just didn’t show up. I tried changing all the plausible moderation keywords and it still didn’t show. I wonder if I’m banned or something. If this comment is posted then I’m not.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 2:25 pm

J Thomas,

That’s odd. I had a couple of my posts in mo d. But I think it’s because of too many links. Not sure. I don’t think there was anything offensive in them.

Anyway, your initial suggestion was fine. I, too, would rather hear from the folks (teachers, scholars, etc.) who have spent many years studying Marx, and want to explore his actual writing/thinking, etc. etc. . There is much for me to learn, and I appreciate the posts from people who have in depth knowledge of the subject. Their suggestions for further reading are most welcome.

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J Thomas 12.20.14 at 2:30 pm

Usually I can guess keywrds eveutually, but I’m stuck. Could it have been in something I quoted, that already went through for somebody else?

#205 Ze Kraggash

You can’t take both the USSR and Gorby, because Gorby was the guy (as much as we can credit one person for this sort of thing) who destroyed the USSR (instead of reforming it). He destabilized it, and then gave it up, capitulated, pretty much unconditionally. What followed in the next decade (call it capitalist kleptocracy or simply looting by the conqueror) clearly demonstrated that the Cold War was a real war, a war for survival, at least on their part.

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J Thomas 12.20.14 at 2:31 pm

No, it wasn’t the quote. I wanted to ask what happened there. What made Gorby surrender to the USA? Whatever it was, why did it stop working? How come the new guy is acting up now?

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Plume 12.20.14 at 2:59 pm

Wanted to add a coupla things from yesterday.

First: Who knew that “ubiquitous” meant two people?

Second: It’s pretty sad when someone brags that we’re now at the lowest percentage of people living on less than $2.00 a day — which isn’t even true (and the link failed). Worse than sad. Given the fact of yearly inflation numbers, and the skyrocketing of wealth at the top, one would think that no one on earth would still be living on less than $2.00 per day. When we have people making billions a year — which means they have millions a day to live on — it’s obscene that anyone makes 1% or less of that amount. Of course, the top should come waaaay down so the bottom can rise up to greet it and look it straight in the eye.

(Again, I think a 4 to 1 ratio is a very good balance between some hierarchy and pure egalitarian results. It allows for differences in experience, enhancement/advancement of skills, time on the job, educational pursuits, work complexity, etc. But it doesn’t create major class differences. Orwell called for 10 to 1. And that wouldn’t be too bad, either. But I like 4 to 1 better.)

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J Thomas 12.20.14 at 3:29 pm

#212 Plume

Again, I think a 4 to 1 ratio is a very good balance between some hierarchy and pure egalitarian results. It allows for differences in experience, enhancement/advancement of skills, time on the job, educational pursuits, work complexity, etc.

I’m kind of sympathetic to that idea. I want to imagine how it could happen. Of course, nobody has an obligation to work out details of how it could happen ahead of time — people could and would use a lot of trial and error to find out just how to make it work, as they do with everything else. But….

Imagine that at some time in the future 99% of the people agree with you on the principles. Maybe 99.9%. There’s no question about fighting over it, the inevitable small minority of crackpots who disagree will not get in the way much. In practice people tend to try to impose new ideas when maybe a third agree and a third are apathetic, but let’s say that a pacifist egalitarian movement has held out and persuaded, and hardly anybody is trying to stop it.

What should they do to get it working?

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Plume 12.20.14 at 3:48 pm

J Thomas,

As much as I’d like to see it happen immediately and instantaneously, it probably needs to be done gradually. Starting with our current system offering more and more non-profit, all public, in-house-run goods and services. Give the people the choice. Actually offer real alternatives. And those alternatives would be based on a foundation of human rights, completely eco-friendly, fair trade, etc. etc. Workers in that part of the economy would be in that 4 to 1 ratio, which wouldn’t be that much different from current government ratios. They’re roughly 5 to 1, give or take.

So we keep offering more and more, and more people switch, because the value, quality and pricing is so much better. No profits to worry about. All of the money goes to the product, workers, R and D, etc. No obscene executive salaries or stock dividends. No need for tax avoidance lawyers, or endless ads and marketing, etc.

At the same time, we talk about these alternatives in schools, in the media, everywhere, and we give the public the information they need to decide for themselves. They get to see that there are far more options than just the one we’ve had rammed down our throats for two hundred years: capitalism.

We also work toward changing laws in the private sector to expand workers rights and human rights in general. We change the Constitution to end personhood for corporations, and shatter the absurd link between money and speech.

It’s kind of a pincer movement.

We then get to an all public sector, all commons (except for one’s home), via democratic, velvet revolutions, and we keep refining the public sector, until it’s all Green, all sustainable, and the economic sphere becomes background to our lives, instead of foreground and all ground. We finally put it in its proper place. Just a tool. Just one small aspect of life. Not life itself.

Will flesh that out more, later, if you’re interested.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 3:55 pm

And one quick alternative concept before I go:

We have a very strange system when it comes to taxes. Taxes really aren’t needed at all. There is really no reason why government should print money, sustain it, support it, make treaties concerning it, and then send it out to the private sector and wait for small portions of it to come back again.

An analogy: You want to build a house. You already have all the resources you need in hand. But, because of the system, you can’t build that house. You have to send your resources to central banks and other gateways, who distribute those resources elsewhere, and then, eventually, down the road, you get back a small portion of what you originally had in hand.

It makes far more sense to me to build that house up front. Build what you need to build up front. Waiting for months or years or decades for a return of the resources you had initially strikes me as absurd — even though it’s the norm and is the soup we swim in.

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Anarcissie 12.20.14 at 4:02 pm

The problem I have encountered in my parallel life as an activist has been that the great majority of the people don’t seem to want to do anything about the conditions of their life and work. For example, socialism — the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers — is a perfectly viable arrangement, as is shown by the millions of existing cooperatives, but most people simply aren’t interested. They will not even join unions in order to have some effect on their wages and working conditions. If some change or improvement is desired, they look to great leaders to hand it down from on high. I hope this is a cultural rather than a genetic problem, and that the culture can be changed. We haven’t figured out how to bring that about, however, except on very small, very local scales.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 4:32 pm

Anarcissie,

That’s true. Real socialism is just common sense and logic.

Capitalism relies on “collectivization” too. But it’s the most ridiculous and irrational kind. With capitalism, the collective works to make a few people rich. It works on behalf of others — for just a few others, not the collective itself.

Socialism just means the collective works on behalf of the collective, and what could be more logical?

Your point about apathy is important. Liberal capitalism gives just enough to just enough people so they believe they’re doing okay, and propaganda about all other alternatives makes them think they can’t do better under different systems. That’s kind of the capitalist dance. Paying just enough, creating conditions that are just enough to keep people from marching on the Bastille. Not more than that. Just enough to prevent actual revolution.

And, this scenario tells us that “human nature” isn’t all about greed and the desire to compete or conquer — as sociopaths and alphas would have us believe. If it were, we’d see far more revolutions, and far more frequent revolts. They would likely be endless. Human nature, really — to whatever degree that exists outside the nature/nurture dynamic — is far more likely to lead us toward peaceful coexistence, cooperation, etc. etc. It’s only a small portion of humanity that has the internal compulsion to lie, cheat and steal its way to hoarding wealth and power.

Most people really just want to live in peace, eat, rut, sleep and make merry. Most humans don’t ever want to be Alexanders, or Larry Ellisons.

Capitalism doesn’t fit “human nature” at all. Socialism does.

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Bruce Wilder 12.20.14 at 6:14 pm

And, under real Socialism, what do you propose to do with the Alexanders and Larry Ellisons?

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Plume 12.20.14 at 6:24 pm

Bruce,

It won’t be me proposing to do anything with them. They will no longer have the means, the system, the tools or the power to do as they wish. For the first time in modern world history, the people won’t have to just accept being trounced by sociopaths and alphas. For the first time in modern world history, full democracy would empower everyone and the logic of superior numbers (plus democracy, plus cooperation) will overcome the irrationality of allowing the few to dominate, control and force the many to do their bidding.

In short, there won’t be any avenues open for sociopaths and alphas to achieve their desires, their lust for control and dominance. They won’t have any choice but to be one among many, with equal shares of resources, power, access, etc. etc. They won’t have (and won’t be able to get) insanely disproportionate amounts of the above. And they’ll have to live their lives without the ability to lord it over everyone else. They won’t be “boss” any more, in short.

The people will see to that. The new constitution will see to that. Real democracy, including the economy, will see to that.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 6:50 pm

To boil it down further: You need a ruling class, a ruling elite, for sociopaths and alphas to do their damage. Get rid of class distinctions, class structures, class supports and they lose their ability to do that damage. They’re no longer “bosses” and there is no system (any longer) to sustain them.

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J Thomas 12.20.14 at 7:06 pm

#214 Plume

Starting with our current system offering more and more non-profit, all public, in-house-run goods and services. Give the people the choice. Actually offer real alternatives. And those alternatives would be based on a foundation of human rights, completely eco-friendly, fair trade, etc. etc. Workers in that part of the economy would be in that 4 to 1 ratio, which wouldn’t be that much different from current government ratios.

Again, I don’t think you have any responsibility to have everything worked out ahead of time. But if you had two different nonprofits, and both of them paid its members in a 4:1 ratio but one of them paid its members 10 times as much as the other, should somebody do something about that? Who should decide whether something needs to be done and what needs doing?

If one co-op provides a vital service that people have traditionally paid a lot for, while the other does something marginal that just doesn’t bring in much, how can we ensure that both co-ops pay the same? I can see paying a boss at one place 4 times as much as workers beginning their training, but how do we make sure that it’s across the board?

222

Ze Kraggash 12.20.14 at 7:22 pm

Plum, have you read Lord of the Flies?

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Plume 12.20.14 at 7:34 pm

J Thomas,

Again, that would all be decided democratically. My own input would be that we should establish wage and prices and lock them down for a steady-state economy. I’d also break the link between sales and wages, completely, forever. No one would be paid based upon how much the co-op sold. It wouldn’t matter. Compensation would standardized, and in the form of points, distributed from a central pool, which we all owned. Compensation wouldn’t be derived from sales/prices. You wouldn’t have to sell X amount in order to meet payroll. The “money” would be distributed from the Commons, completely, utterly, absolutely divorced from sales. It would be a completely separate stream, from a totally separate pool — an infinite pool as well. Tracked, accounted for, audited, but never empty.

Debit cards. You’d fill up your card with points for hours worked. You’d use the debit card in the commonly held stores. Certain things would be literally free, without the need to use the debit card. Free education, healthcare, public transport and free housing. If someone wants to use their debit card for non-public housing, they could. There would be plenty of that as well.

No profits. No actual physical currency. Just debit exchanges for certain goods and services, plus free public options as stated above. And anything the community needed, it could petition for those infinite funds. No taxes. No debt. No reason not to build that house up front, as the earlier analogy showed.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 7:35 pm

Yes.

I’ve read Lord of the Flies.

And, ya know something? It’s fiction. Golding intended it that way, too.

225

Brett Bellmore 12.20.14 at 8:06 pm

“What made Gorby surrender to the USA?”

Well, duh: He reached the point where keeping the empire together would have required killing a lot of people, and lacked the stomach to do it. So he let it fall apart, instead. Putin has no trouble in that regard, so he’s trying to put the empire back together.

“It won’t be me proposing to do anything with them. They will no longer have the means, the system, the tools or the power to do as they wish.”

How exactly does that work? In your worker’s paradise, some people over there decide to contract with each other in a capitalist manner, and it magically just doesn’t happen, without any enforcement mechanism?

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tub 12.20.14 at 8:14 pm

“it magically just doesn’t happen, without any enforcement mechanism?”

Actually, that’s exactly how it does not happen. Just don’t enforce the contracts that they make with each other.

In other words, when the would-be capitalists rip each other off and then come crawling to Nanny non-State to enforce the adorable little contracts they made with each other, Nanny declines to interfere.

Non-problem solved.

227

Plume 12.20.14 at 9:02 pm

Tub,

This is true. Conservative cheerleaders for capitalism have this very bizarre belief that they can go about their business without the eternal protection and support of the State. They can’t. And they couldn’t start one single business, ever, without that state supplying all of the infrastructure, the treaties, the currency, the trade agreements, the court protections, patents, the police, the wars, the military to keep the shipping lanes open, the R and D, etc. etc.

And, once started, they could never sustain themselves without the endless taxpayer bailouts for capitalism — which total more than 100 just since 1970, to the tune of many, many trillions.

We the people would simply no longer provide capitalists with legal protections, infrastructure or any other form of externalization which enables them to start up and keep going.

There is no need to use “coercion” or any semblance of force. They just don’t exist, and can’t exist, as far as the legally constituted non-state state is concerned. We don’t recognize them. They’re not really there. We don’t help them get started. We don’t fund them or sustain them in any way, shape or form. And we don’t supply them any legal tender, etc.

Problem solved.

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J Thomas 12.20.14 at 9:26 pm

#223 Plume

My own input would be that we should establish wage and prices and lock them down for a steady-state economy. I’d also break the link between sales and wages, completely, forever. No one would be paid based upon how much the co-op sold. It wouldn’t matter.

As it is now, one of the ways we (sometimes) decide that an enterprise is not worth continuing, is when it can’t pay the bills. If nobody’s willing to pay enough for it to continue, then it stops. Often businesses that should stop don’t, because they get the money when by rights they shouldn’t, but sometimes businesses do fail when they “ought to”.

You would need some other way to decide whether co-ops etc are productive enough. It’s fine for people to have a co-op that in fact produces nothing but relaxing leisure time for its members, sometimes. But when you need the members to spend part of their time doing something more valuable, there should be some way to encourage them.

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Bruce Wilder 12.20.14 at 9:27 pm

“Problem solved.”

Being an idiot is not virtue.

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Ze Kraggash 12.20.14 at 9:30 pm

225 “He reached the point where keeping the empire together would have required killing a lot of people, and lacked the stomach to do it.”

No, I don’t think so. Killing what people? Gorby became the king in 1985; there were no riots, no particular turmoil anywhere. The usual stagnation, perhaps a slow deterioration, but nothing remarkable. Some small troubles in Poland, but manageable. Eastern/central Europe aside, the USSR itself didn’t have problems requiring any killings whatsoever. The official final collapse was, as I understand, just a move in the personal power struggle between Yeltsin and Gorby. And then the looting started, and killings too. But it didn’t have to end like that; Deng Xiaoping’s reforms present a different scenario.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 9:38 pm

Bruce,

Bruce Wilder 12.20.14 at 9:27 pm

“Problem solved.”

Being an idiot is not virtue.

I quite agree. And you should seek help for that. Please. I’ll support your climb up and out of idiocy in any way I can. And I think you should also get some help for that bad little habit of yours. Attacking others personally without provocation.

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J Thomas 12.20.14 at 9:41 pm

#227 Plume

There is no need to use “coercion” or any semblance of force. They just don’t exist, and can’t exist, as far as the legally constituted non-state state is concerned. We don’t recognize them. They’re not really there. We don’t help them get started. We don’t fund them or sustain them in any way, shape or form. And we don’t supply them any legal tender, etc.

Problem solved.

I’m not at all sure that would be enough to make them disappear completely. The existing government has not managed to get rid of the Mafia despite considerable effort. Chances are ignoring it would not get rid of the Mafia either, so that gives you traces of aristocracy and capitalism both.

On the other hand, you might easily tolerate it existing as long as it doesn’t become a threat. Dog’s can live with fleas just fine, provided the fleas don’t carry plague.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 9:45 pm

J Thomas,

My input would be that these operations wouldn’t even start up unless the community wanted them. They would be based on need, use value, not exchange value. No profits. No need to produce things just to make someone rich. No need for endless marketing to try to get us to believe we want or need something. Communities would decide that upfront, in conjunction with other communities, regions, nationally.

And that would radically reduce wasteful competition. There wouldn’t be the cycles of “creative destruction” to go through, with competition heating up and ending up driving all too many operations out of business. The weaker, the smaller, the ones with less money to weather the downward pressure on prices, etc. We’d be cooperative, not competitive, and radically reduce waste.

As for encouragement: Four labor tiers. Working toward moving up from one to the next. Could be a system of “extra credit” involved as well. Lots of possibilities there for alternatives.

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Plume 12.20.14 at 9:52 pm

But the mafia uses dollars. It has access to the same property protections as other capitalists.

I’m saying there wouldn’t be any mechanisms for capitalists to go it alone. No dollars for them. Unless they just wanted to barter with each other, in which case they wouldn’t be capitalists anyway.

There certainly might be black markets of one kind or another. But when the entire nation is organized in a certain way, is constitutionally organized in a certain way, when all of the laws, structures, rights and so on are organized as if capitalism doesn’t exist and never did exist . . . . it’s just not going to be a problem ignoring it. And capitalists have never, ever gotten anywhere without immense state support. It’s just not going to be a problem when they have zero.

Heading out. Thanks for the conversation.

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J Thomas 12.21.14 at 12:12 am

#234 Plume

And capitalists have never, ever gotten anywhere without immense state support.

Consider the various mafias. They have never had any official state support, but they have mostly survived. The Irish groups survived until they got respectable enough to stop doing crime. The Italian Mafia likewise, and they still have a few criminal edges. The chinese tongs. The korean gangpae. The vietnamese mafia whose name I don’t know how to spell or pronounce.

Are they capitalists? They do loansharking and sell drugs etc. They also do their own contract enforcement, enforce their own labor laws, collect their own taxes, etc. They have absorbed enough government functions to get by without official government support, although they get some unknown amount of unofficial support through bribery, blackmail, etc.

I expect they could survive in your system provided there are enough illegal jobs for them to do that people want done. Would there be illegal things that people wanted to do? That’s partly a social question. We might easily still make some things illegal that people want to do. And that’s an in for capitalist organized crime.

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Anarcissie 12.21.14 at 12:17 am

Plume 12.20.14 at 6:50 pm @ 220:
‘To boil it down further: You need a ruling class, a ruling elite, for sociopaths and alphas to do their damage. Get rid of class distinctions, class structures, class supports and they lose their ability to do that damage. They’re no longer “bosses” and there is no system (any longer) to sustain them.’

But the state and its class system don’t fall from Mars. They are replicated and sustained by the daily life of the people. It is easy to say they could do something different. It is much harder to get them to actually do anything substantially different.

237

J Thomas 12.21.14 at 12:46 am

3236 Anarcissie

But the state and its class system don’t fall from Mars. They are replicated and sustained by the daily life of the people. It is easy to say they could do something different. It is much harder to get them to actually do anything substantially different.

That’s true, we’ve probably been doing it since neolithic times. A lot of momentum.

But if we get to the point where 99+% of the people want it different, they might be ready to actually make it different. I’m not ready to say it can’t happen.

We already have some other models. Industrial psychologists for many years have said that managers can get better work out of their employees cheaply by praising them for doing good, and giving them opportunities to be creative and get results. People often want praise more than they want more money. The results are often pretty good — there’s a lot of time visibly wasted but more work gets done — but it never lasts past the beginning of the next recession. Then it’s “Do your job and don’t let me see you goofing off. The only perq you get is this month’s paycheck”. I don’t know how well they’d do if the recession didn’t come. If people had a lot of freedom to choose their jobs, maybe some would want to be responsible, some would want a job where they could just follow orders and not have to think about it much, and possibly some would want to lift heavy loads while foremen encouraged them with whips. There are a lot of different people, and I can’t predict what they’d do if they got to choose.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 1:59 pm

J Thomas,

On the mafia. It fits in with our current system because it is a capitalist concern. And while our current system doesn’t give it direct aid, like it does with legally recognized businesses, it still offers a system designed to make capitalist enterprise work. Our society is organized around the wishes, goals and desires of business ownership. The mafia is a business concern. That wouldn’t be the case in the alternative.

But after awhile, these objectives become rather silly. Not saying you’re doing this, but it’s a bit like asking, “Well, what if . . . what if . . . uh, monkeys start flying out of people’s butts, and, well, what are you going to do then, Mr. radical egalitarian democrat? What are you going to do then? Betya didn’t consider that in your utopian modelings, right?”

I find it strange that people tend to hold alternative systems to much, much higher standards of effectiveness than our current system. They tend to offer objections that haven’t been solved by capitalism, either. And given its abject, epic failure to do the most basic thing any economic system should do — allocate resources and work compensation in an adequate manner for the entire population in question — one would think they would welcome alternatives . . . not try to pick them apart via remote side issues which really aren’t relevant.

I’ve stated my objections to capitalism, and even most liberals agree with the basics there. Why is it so difficult for them to just let go? Why is it so difficult for them to follow the logic of their own critique of capitalism? They see the massive inequality, disruption, poverty, famine, etc. etc. They recognize climate change and its human cause. They’ve studied at least part of the history of how nations and their colonies because capitalist. Why on earth would they continue to cling to a system whose internal logic (and structure) has led to genocide, slavery, famine, apartheid, etc. etc.?

In short, the onus really isn’t on the people proposing alternatives. The onus is on those who defend the current system. There is no defense for it.

239

Brett Bellmore 12.21.14 at 2:34 pm

Plume, your problem is that you can’t face the fact that the system you want can’t exist in practice without somebody threatening anybody who tries to act outside your system. In fact, you would have bosses, and enforcers, and all that. More of them, even.

You complain about concentrations of power, and propose instead a system that won’t exist without… concentrations of power. You complain about inequality, and propose instead a system notorious for producing… inequality. You want all the animals to be equal, and want people to just ignore that has always involved the pigs ending up more equal than the other animals.

The problem is that you’re proposing an alternative that’s been tried, and always turned out horrible. And so you’ve got to deny that it’s been tried. Because Marx never fails, I guess, the people just fail Marx.

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Anarcissie 12.21.14 at 3:14 pm

‘Why on earth would they continue to cling to a system whose internal logic (and structure) has led to genocide, slavery, famine, apartheid, etc. etc.?’

Same as big-ticket capitalists: because they perceive it as being to their immediate, material, short-term advantage. Throw in a little tribalism and a little superstition, and you have a culture that produces not only genocide, slavery, famine, apartheid, etc. etc., but a Republican majority in Congress.

241

Brett Bellmore 12.21.14 at 3:19 pm

I think the most cogent remark I’ve ever heard about Marxism was Wilson’s, “Wonderful theory, wrong species.” Humans are a hierarchical species, we will naturally form hierarchies. Try to impose their lack upon us, and you’ll need to create a hierarchy to do the imposing, and if will have to be a worse hierarchy, because it will be working against our nature, not with it.

I’m an engineer. We have to work with nature as it is, not design things for imaginary materials and physical laws. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” You don’t want to obey nature, you want to deny it, so it won’t be commanded by you. But your sort can harm a lot of people in the futile effort, anyway.

So, in the end, the piles of skulls did get discussed, anyway, they were too blatant to ignore. Let’s not stack up more of them.

Yes, Marx should be taught, as Lysenko should be taught, as every false and failed theory should be taught: As an object lesson in failure, as wrong.

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Anarcissie 12.21.14 at 3:20 pm

Brett Bellmore 12.21.14 at 2:34 pm @ 239:
‘Plume, your problem is that you can’t face the fact that the system you want can’t exist in practice without somebody threatening anybody who tries to act outside your system. …’

This is simply not true. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of viable, functioning, productive cooperatives and communes in the world.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 3:23 pm

Brett,

It wouldn’t need to threaten others. Not at all. Our current system can’t survive without a police state and government perpetually propping up and saving capitalism from itself. Our current system incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation, and requires endless wars to defend and expand its markets. You, of course, ignore all of that.

And I know this is useless, because you’ve already made up your mind to ignore all the facts. All of them. But the system I describe is clearly 100% opposed to the Soviet system. Marx’s own writings were opposed to any system resembling it, and have nothing in common with it. And my own ideas are an amalgam. They take a bit from Marx, a bit from William Morris, a bit from the Parecon movement, a bit from Chomsky, Mondragon, Wolff’s WSDEs, the Spanish anarchists before Franco finally crushed them, etc. etc. It’s an eclectic mix, with my own personal stamp on it.

But, since you’ve convinced yourself that all alternatives to capitalism must always be just the Soviet system repeated forever . . . . since you have such an incredibly narrow range of perspectives, and can only see black and white, nothing I can say will change your little mind.

As the young kids used to say, whatever.

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J Thomas 12.21.14 at 3:26 pm

#238 Plume

I find it strange that people tend to hold alternative systems to much, much higher standards of effectiveness than our current system. They tend to offer objections that haven’t been solved by capitalism, either.

I agree that the current system has not eliminated Mafias either. And I don’t claim that your vague proposed system would inevitably have Mafias, either Mafias that would destroy it or Mafias that would continue to exist around the edges of things but not cause much trouble.

What got me to poke at it was your claim that Mafias could not possibly survive. I think you’re going a bit beyond the evidence there.

I want to argue that if you create a good system that still has a little Mafia presence around the edges, that doesn’t keep it from being a good system. It doesn’t have to have every possible detail tied up tidy and perfect. When it sounds like you’re arguing that it will inevitably be perfect with no tiny blemishes, I start to doubt you. I mean, there’s lots of room for a system that’s maybe ten times better, or a hundred times better that maybe isn’t completely perfect the first try. If it was 100 times better with no important drawbacks, I’d think that was good enough for government work. We can do better than that, but no big hurry.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 3:28 pm

Anarcissie @242,

Very true.

A few examples:

Marinaleda

WSDE

Gar Alperovitz

Mondragon

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Brett Bellmore 12.21.14 at 3:30 pm

“There are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of viable, functioning, productive cooperatives and communes in the world.”

But Plume doesn’t want socialism on the scale of a family, or a close group of people who share some overarching goal, which is the level that socialism actually works moderately well at. (Still with hierarchy, though.) He wants socialism to be the ONLY way people organize. He wants it on the levels where it doesn’t work, too.

That’s his problem. He doesn’t so much want socialism, as to bar anything else, and not everybody wants to be a socialist, so the people who don’t will have to be forced.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 3:31 pm

Anarcissie,

I have a reply echoing yours in mod. I probably put in too many links (four). They were to Mondragon, Gar Alperovitz, Wolff’s concept of WSDE, and the village of Marinaleda.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 3:34 pm

J Thomas,

This is quite fair:

I want to argue that if you create a good system that still has a little Mafia presence around the edges, that doesn’t keep it from being a good system. It doesn’t have to have every possible detail tied up tidy and perfect. When it sounds like you’re arguing that it will inevitably be perfect with no tiny blemishes, I start to doubt you. I mean, there’s lots of room for a system that’s maybe ten times better, or a hundred times better that maybe isn’t completely perfect the first try. If it was 100 times better with no important drawbacks, I’d think that was good enough for government work. We can do better than that, but no big hurry.

If I have described it as “perfect,” then that’s my own failure at communication. I don’t see it that way, and have argued against people who say “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” by saying I’m not trying for perfection. I really am trying for “the good.”

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Plume 12.21.14 at 3:40 pm

Brett,

No. The system I advocate for doesn’t force everyone to be a socialist anymore than our current system forces everyone to be a capitalist. The vast majority of people in capitalist societies aren’t capitalists. They don’t want to be or can’t be. Capitalists are tiny minorities in every capitalist nation, which is one of THE biggest reasons for its immorality and destructive nature.

Also, the idea of the small, family unit can logically be extended to the community, and from the community to the region, and from the region to the nation. There is no reason why we can’t live cooperatively, instead of competitively. Those small units would cooperate with each other, and the overall society would consist of those small cooperative groups, working together, instead of at cross-purposes.

The goal is the end of the class system, entirely. The end of concentrations of power. The dispersal of power into 315 million bodies, everyone with equal rights, equal shares of power and equal access to the fruits of society.

Oh, the horror!!

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Plume 12.21.14 at 3:48 pm

And, Brett,

I missed your comment about the pile of skulls being discussed. Yes, we did. We discussed how capitalism has piled up well over ten times more of them than so-called “communism.”

I linked to the evidence for several hundred million deaths due to capitalism, and have found estimates as high as 1.6 billion. You say you don’t want to add to them. But you do. You wholeheartedly support the system with the most death and destruction attached to it in the history of the world.

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Anarcissie 12.21.14 at 4:17 pm

Arguments from ‘human nature’ require the arguer to have a complete, accurate description of human nature, something I have yet to see.

If one believes that hierarchy is necessary to human societies, one has at least two problems: one is that anthropology has discovered many viable non-hierarchical social orders; another is that the locally dominant social order, liberal capitalism, contains many non-hierarchical social processes and arrangements within its framework.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 4:37 pm

Humans lived communally for our first 250,000 years. If anything is “natural,” to us, it’s cooperation and a decided distaste for being bossed around by others. We are also quite adaptable, and it’s that adaptability, rather than any sort of “natural” predilection for hierarchy, selfishness, greed or competition, that has led to a reluctant acceptance of, and then a kind of obliviousness to, the current, highly authoritarian system.

(There is also that matter of being forced into it originally, against our will, and the police-state and military aspects that sustain it.)

We would adapt to its opposite as well. And logically, given that it would help lift the quality of life for everyone, the “buy-in” would be much faster and cover more ground.

An article on the a href=”http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct”> Compassionate Instinct:

In other research by Emory University neuroscientists James Rilling and Gregory Berns, participants were given the chance to help someone else while their brain activity was recorded. Helping others triggered activity in the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulate, portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure. This is a rather remarkable finding: helping others brings the same pleasure we get from the gratification of personal desire.

The brain, then, seems wired up to respond to others’ suffering—indeed, it makes us feel good when we can alleviate that suffering. But do other parts of the body also suggest a biological basis for compassion?

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mattski 12.21.14 at 4:40 pm

Anarcissie,

I think it’s helpful to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary hierarchies, while allowing that there is gray area between the two.

But a rule of thumb is the larger the group the more need for some forms of authority.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 4:51 pm

Hey, Mattski,

Hope all is well.

One way around the concept of hierarchy — and it by no means solves everything — is to establish rotational systems. I would do that within a democratic frame inside production environments, and outside in the political commons.

Instead of electing leaders, everyone would do their time, like the Peace Corps, and “leadership” would be temporary. Something like, you’d do four years total. One year at the community level, one year regionally, two years in a national assembly. You’d take with you your experience of each. After the nationals, you’d go back home.

Same thing within your chosen field of work. Everyone would have equal say and an equal share, but workers would rotate in and out of leadership spots.

No permanent hierarchy would exist within a production facility, or community, regional or national institutions.

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stevenjohnson 12.21.14 at 5:40 pm

@241 ” Humans are a hierarchical species, we will naturally form hierarchies.” Except when they don’t. Falsifying anthropology and biology is good conservative thinking. Nonetheless imaginary facts only convince the faithful.

@251 “Humans lived communally for our first 250,000 years.” No matter what the evolutionary psychologists want to tell us, human nature is not a biological decree sanctified by millennia of evolution. The apparent non-existence of “hierarchy” before the material conditions of existence permitted its emergence tells us precisely nothing about what’s natural for humanity. Much as I prefer Plume’s attitudes, facts are not an act of will. Also, shocking as it may seem, the evidence can still be read as showing that we, modern humanity, only finally separately emerged as recently as 70 000 years ago.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 5:53 pm

@254,

I don’t see it as a decree, either. Far from it. I’m in the nature/nurture camp. As in both acting upon each other, and then systems acting upon that and being acted upon, etc. etc.

But I do think it’s pretty clear that we have a trait for adaptability. And this trait has sometimes gotten us into trouble. As in, too much acceptance of the awful, the ugly, the oppressive. People can adapt to prison life. They can adapt to living like kings and queens. It’s our blessing and our curse.

I think all too often that adaptation is also seen, especially by conservatives, as support, when it’s in the context of their favored system, capitalism. I think that’s a terrible misreading of our “natural” inclination to make the best of things.

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mattski 12.21.14 at 6:08 pm

Hi Plume,

Hope you are well also! Just a few thoughts-

Humans lived communally for our first 250,000 years.

How much do we really know about this? How much of history is knowable? Especially the deep past. For example, how commonplace was euthanasia in primitive cultures? It is rather easy to imagine that survival of the group may have sometimes necessitated such practice. How much do we know about cruelty in enforcement of social norms in primitive societies? To me it seems dubious to look at the deep past through ‘rose colored’ glasses.

And the other point I want to make is simply that hierarchies can be voluntary, they can be a source of efficiency and thus improvement in living standards for all.

What happens if the newest member of a jazz ensemble demands equal time for his/her ideas? Probably a quick exit from the group.

What happens if management of a business is rotated without regard for competence? Almost assuredly production will suffer, and probably morale too.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 6:30 pm

Some good points.

True, the archeological record isn’t going to give us much in the way of those details. It’s primarily an assumption based upon what we know through the study of indigenous peoples, Celtic cultures, pre-modern cultures all over the globe, along with existing archeological records. Tribal cultures all over the world tended to have very short hierarchies. They existed, of course. But there weren’t very many levels to them. Perhaps three or four. In the capitalist system, the pyramid is staggeringly high, and hierarchical differences even between occupations can make the Egyptians with their pharaoh look almost egalitarian in comparison.

As for the cruelties of those earlier cultures. Yes. Certainly. They existed. But I’m not suggesting that we take everything from earlier forms, keep it all intact, and live with it as is. We have the ability to learn from our mistakes and cast off what doesn’t work, try new forms, change, revise, refine, etc. etc. IMO, clinging to capitalism is a denial of that potential. We’re not learning from our mistakes when we don’t move on from a failed system.

As for those rotations. I think the wisdom of crowds will prevent most problems developing there. But there would also be mechanisms to vote out rotational leaders if majorities considered them destructive. Again, the workplace would be a true democracy, and the rotational leadership would always be accountable to the workplace as a whole. It wouldn’t be as if they were rotating autocrats. One of the main goals is to end autocracy at all points and places.

As for your example of the Jazz ensemble. I would hope they would give everyone equal time at least for ideas. Implementation would be another kettle of fish. But I can’t really see a problem with airing ideas about music in equal measure. IMO, that should be the norm in that kind of group.

259

Brett Dunbar 12.21.14 at 6:34 pm

No one is preventing you from running a co-operative. Several large business in Britain are co-ops. Firstly their is the Co-op movement itself, there is also the John Lewis Partnership (a retailer) and the Nationwide building society (a mutual society owned by its members is one of Britain’s largest mortgage providers). There also a number of smaller building societies and some other mutuals within the financial sector. The financial sector also has a few major part nationalised players; RBS and Lloyds.

On the whole they are quite capable of existing and competing in the market. As an ownership structure it neither has a huge advantage or a huge disadvantage relative to more conventionally owned businesses.

Capitalist societies have no problem with having businesses organised on socialist lines and indeed in the financial service sector one of the major players is owned by its savers and borrowers.

You can start a co-op or some other form of voluntary socialist organisation if you want. Just don’t stop other people from organising themselves on a more commercial basis.

260

Harold 12.21.14 at 6:35 pm

Hierarchy is associated with division of labor and social complexity. It has nothing to do with instinct or nature. Look it up.

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Plume 12.21.14 at 6:42 pm

Brett,

Capitalism has resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths and the continued suffering of billions of human beings. Its internal structure and logic lead naturally to genocide, slavery, apartheid, massive inequality and our eventual demise as a species due to endless consumption, waste and pollution.

It’s not a matter of me wanting to have my own little co-op. It’s a matter of me and millions of others recognizing the immorality and evilness of the capitalist system, and wanting its end. I know that I’ll be dead and gone before we finally end that evil. So it’s not about me. It’s not about my personal desires for my own life. It’s about the recognition of the suffering of others, and how to radically reduce that, if not end it entirely.

“You can start your own co-op” is a copout. It solves nothing.

262

J. Parnell Thomas 12.21.14 at 7:09 pm

So here are some thoughts that maybe someone better informed than I could flesh out or refute or whatever. Post cold war we’ve seen things like the integration of Maoists into a multi-party democracy in Nepal and the success of nominally socialist leaders in Latin America, of whom the most extreme was Chavez, whom I think of as relatively benign despite his flaws, but no new communist dystopias that I know of.

And it seems to me that part of the reason (aside from the direct influence of Stalinists, miscellaneous causes specific to each country, and yeah, probably some of Marx’s ideas that seem unwise in retrospect) that cold-war-era “communist” countries were more-or-less brutal dictatorships is that the most brutal dictators were the most effective at surviving the coups, assassinations and wars our side tended to support. So we were good at toppling the nicer ones, and those who survived got meaner.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.21.14 at 7:12 pm

I think moving that parenthesized bit made that one sentence harder to read. I think I’ll put it back like it was…

“And it seems to me that part of the reason that cold-war-era “communist” countries were more-or-less brutal dictatorships (aside from the direct influence of Stalinists, miscellaneous causes specific to each country, and yeah, probably some of Marx’s ideas that seem unwise in retrospect) is that the most brutal dictators were the most effective at surviving the coups, assassinations and wars our side tended to support. So we were good at toppling the nicer ones, and those who survived got meaner.”

264

Brett Dunbar 12.21.14 at 8:13 pm

Plume that is arrant bullshit. One of the fundamental assumptions of classical economics was that all human being were fundamentally equal and best placed to determine their own best interests. The moral arguments for a free market were also arguments for political and legal equality. Classical economists like John Stuart Mill were leading figures in the political campaign against slavery and the slave trade. The UK was a leader in the campaign against slavery. Within the USA the North which was the more capitalist area was abolitionist. Slavery and many of the other evils was a feature of more aristocratic societies.

The market economy might not be pretty it certainly isn’t perfect and needs a fair degree of state redistribution and other interventions in order to remedy its more serious problems. It however has created wealth on a scale unequalled by any other society.

We aren’t convinced that your system can work on a society wide basis, so we would
like you to demonstrate that it can work on a small scale first and also work out the bugs. We’ve seen the results of previous attempts to implement utopian economic schemes on an economy wide basis and they were hideous.

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Bruce Wilder 12.21.14 at 8:54 pm

Neoclassical economics hides from economic hierarchy, public or private. They are as determined as Plume to ignore this most salient feature of the modern world. Even if they are not nearly as gleeful as Plume in triumphantly proclaiming their wilful ignorance, wilful ignorance is at the core of their reasoning.

Marx, to his credit as a genius, didn’t ignore this most salient fact of the capitalist industrial revolution: the building of functional hierarchies, planning and coordinating at unprecedented scale. He died in 1883, in the midst of the decade, when the assembly of bureaucracies for multinational industrial corporations was, from our perspective in the great arc of history, just getting started. John D. Rockefeller had destroyed his competition in the oil business in Ohio ten years earlier, in a momentous couple of months in 1872, but the great Trust that combined disparate interests into the ancestor of Exxon-Mobil and several other U.S. oil companies was only a year old. “Scientific Management. Andrew Carnegie had already had a career as a Superintendent of the Military Railroads in the American Civil War, become a millionaire in the oil business, and invested extensively in steel production, but he was five years from buying the Homestead Works and the great Homestead Strike, marking the re-organization of large-scale factory work on bureaucratic lines was almost a decade away. Edison’s first electric utility company was a year old. Henry Ford, 20 years old, was tinkering with the Westinghouse portable steam engine on the family farm. Keynes and Schumpeter were born the year Marx died.

For the economists, these developments were buried in the accumulation of capital. The neoclassical economists insisted on capital as a synthetic factor of production, metered at the margin into output, kept it buried. Marx, though, recognized the essence of Capital to be power rooted in the appropriation of the means of production. His use of a dialectical method made it natural for Marx to identify the paradoxes inherent in the developments of the industrial revolution as antagonisms and contradictions. One thing Marx understood, if only dimly at times, is that the functional core of hierarchy used in (re-)organizing production along capitalist lines, which was happening under the accumulation of capital, was, by its nature both dynamic and transitory. The “accumulation of capital” was this re-organizing by hierarchical power. The functional core of capital was the power and (I would say) control systems necessary for creating a new system, but once that system was created and running, the need for resources in the hierarchy — in the control systems — would diminish radically. In a static end-state, the system could continue to operate and reproduce itself without so much in the way of a centralizing hierarchy concentrating power and resources, and the capitalist system would be ripe for the proletarian revolution, in which the then vestigial claims of the bourgeois class could be swept away as the vestigial claims of the feudal aristocrats had been finally swept away in the French Revolution.

For the neoclassical economists — creators and heirs of the marginal revolution that was still underway at the time Marx, a classical economist, died — the market economy was stabilized by the homeostasis of market processes, even if technological progress was constantly de-stabilizing things with entrepreneurial innovation. Capital was things — capital equipment, for example, or knowledge — that accumulated, subject to diminishing returns. Keynes clung to this vision of accumulation subject to diminishing returns, positing a marginal efficiency of capital as a controlling condition or limit in his system, and Solow’s growth model imagines an accumulating capital. It is a systematic error of understanding, to hide the creation and elaboration of hierarchical systems of control under the blanket of an accumulating capital.

For the marginalist conception to work, hierarchical control of production systems would have to be a quantity that could be substituted: more control versus less control, arriving at an optimal level of control given the costs of control. It doesn’t really work that way. And, for the Marxist conception to work, erecting systems of control would have to be work that could be finished, the instability introduced by the dynamics of innovation finally resolved into a steady state organized by some new principles appropriate to a different and subsequent age, when the abundance created by the system of production birthed and reared by a dynamic capitalism might be shared out.

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Bruce Wilder 12.21.14 at 8:55 pm

Talking about hierarchy as “natural” to “human nature” strikes me as just so much rubbish. Hierarchy is, as Harold said, associated with the division of labor and social complexity. It requires a primary surplus in agriculture, and correlates with the increasing population density and a deepening division of labor, which is necessary for technological elaboration.

The Neolithic Revolution — the advent of agriculture — began around 10,000 BCE at the end of the last Ice Age, and created the first concentration of sedentary populations. The first proto-cities do not betray much evidence of hierarchy in their layout — they appeared to be largely unplanned warrens. There’s an unmistakable pattern as the Neolithic Revolution takes hold and moves across the face of the globe, displacing hunter-gatherer bands. First, there’s a population explosion, and then, a population crash. In the Fertile Crescent, the population crests roughly around 5500-5000 BCE, crashing rapidly for causes unknown but variously guessed, and remained at the new lower level for roughly 1500 years, until hydraulic civilizations, with their political hierarchies, began to emerge in Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley around 3000 BCE, and population exploded again.

Population explosion and crash is a pattern repeated as the agricultural revolution spreads out, moving into northern Europe after 3000 BCE, though less fertile areas than the semi-tropical great river valleys do not produce such elaborate hierarchical civilizations. Bronze Age Greece seems to manage agriculture for a time with fairly communal “palace” complexes operating what may have been a kind of bank and storehouse, but a violent shift in the direction of more militaristic hierarchies occurs around 1500 BCE and the “palace” complexes are succeeded by fortresses and actual palaces. Bronze Age civilization crashes around 1150 BCE, again for reasons unknown.

Civilization quickens again in the Mediterranean and notably in Greece, around 800 BCE and there’s another population explosion. This civilization would eventually produce the Roman Empire. The Romans were remarkably good at engineering cities and organizing armies. Their hierarchies solved fundamental problems, but the civilization seemed to peak in the Pax Romana between Augustus and Hadrian, and began a seemingly inexorable decline in trade and population. A last and very heavy-handed revival of hierarchical power under Justinian ended in one of the greatest die-offs in human population in recorded history, in the Plague of Justinian. The so-called Dark Ages began in Europe.

In our now hyper-awareness of climate change, we recognize that a slight warming of the climate of Northern Europe after 800 AD triggered another population explosion and a quickening of trade and the renewed growth of cities. The collision of the Franks and the Viking-descended Normans around Anjou circa 900 AD triggered a new model of hierarchically organized political society, based in part on the technology of the motte–and-bailey castle. Feudalism swept Western Europe and began expanding across the globe. The manorial agriculture of the Middle Ages reached a limit around 1250 and a cooling of climate triggered a great famine and the Black Death that began a perennial winnowing of the population of western Europe in the 14th century.

It was in dismantling the civilization of the High Middle Ages — the feudal “politics” of private war and pillage, the “industrialism” of monasteries, the autarky of manorial agriculture — that capitalism got started, riding on the back of the still expanding feudal aristocracy, whose crusades and explorations had discovered a new world in the Americas and extremely valuable trade goods in Asia, opening opportunities for the urban trading guilds.

Feudalism was swept away in a series of convulsions: in the Dutch Revolt, the Tudor Renaissance and English Civil War, and, finally, the French Revolution and the First World War. The industrial revolution carried forward from the political revolution that followed in the aftermath of the English Civil War and from the very modest English Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century, which forced surplus population into cities. The first recognizably modern bureaucratic corporations with a marketable capital stock were the English and Dutch East India companies, founded early in the 17th century. The Bank of England was founded in the late 17th century and assumed its role as a proto Central Bank in the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble circa 1725.

The modern industrial corporation did not come into existence until the 1890s, with General Electric. And, the internet revolution occurred with memory of most people alive today. We have a cheap technology of monitoring and control for the first time in human history and very, very little experience with it. Personally, I’m not optimistic, but I’m also not seeing the point of going into full denial mode.

It seems to me that the erection and elaboration of political hierarchy is a highly dynamic process, inexorably associated with a cycle of boom and bust. I think it is reasonable and plausible to presume that the civilization of the industrial revolution has peaked and is in the process of beginning a crash, extended over, say, the next 300 years. It just doesn’t seem to me that hierarchy will be able to solve problems as rapidly as it can create them, and humans do not have enough collective self-awareness to handle the novelty involved. Many of our political philosophers, economists and social scientists can barely even acknowledge the role political hierarchy now plays in enabling our economic productivity.

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mattski 12.21.14 at 9:09 pm

Plume,

All I can say is: You BETTER be a Packers fan!!

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Ze Kraggash 12.21.14 at 9:18 pm

“So we were good at toppling the nicer ones, and those who survived got meaner.”

Yeah, there is definitely something to that. Incidentally, I get the impression that the Chinese ruling elite nowadays is much healthier than that in the US. And more like the hypothetical ideal elite imagined by American liberals. They are real technocrats, who start at the bottom and rise thru the ranks, demonstrating intelligence and good results at every step. In the US, on the other hand, the elite is comprised mostly of demagogues, lairs, thieves, and sociopaths with no intellect whatsoever. Too bad Pareto’s dead, it’d be fun to read his analysis.

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mattski 12.21.14 at 9:25 pm

Also, well said @ 263.

270

J. Parnell Thomas 12.21.14 at 9:27 pm

So I heard Marx was a classical economist. Aren’t there any neoclassical Marxists?

271

Collin Street 12.21.14 at 10:29 pm

[but a key problem with a lot of modern businesses isn’t that they’re run for the profit of their shareholders, it’s that they’re run for the profit of their senior management. Shifting to coops won’t help here, and shifting to state ownership won’t help here. Coops do avoid the problems of the shareholders getting permanent income streams from a once-off sacrifice… but given the rates at which US companies pay dividends, that’s a pretty marginal problem currently. If there’s no single problem, there’s no single “best solution”, is there.]

272

Plume 12.22.14 at 12:41 am

Bruce,

You’ve always been a pompous, long-winded blowhard, who tends to jump in and make unprovoked personal attacks. And you never support your insults with actual evidence.

Given that, you could save a lot of time and bandwidth by just snorting, spitting and kicking your chair. Subjecting the rest of us to your “get off my lawn” hmmmphery really isn’t productive.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 12:52 am

Brett @264,

It however has created wealth on a scale unequalled by any other society.

For whom? Certainly not for the vast majority. And that’s the problem. I’ve already cited the stats. I can do it again. Just 85 human beings hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 BILLION human beings. In America, just 400 people hold as much as the bottom 60% of the country (well over 150 million). The Walton family alone — just eight heirs to that fortune — hold more wealth than the bottom 40% of the country combined. And the richest 20% worldwide consume 85% of our resources.

The only way a person can legitimately call capitalism “successful” is by ignoring its entire history of slavery, genocide, apartheid, famine, oppression, exploitation and the complete inability to allocate resources for anyone but the richest 20%. The only way to be triumphalist about this system is to completely ignore what it does to the planet and its inhabitants.

And, by the way, it doesn’t “create wealth.” Capitalists extract wealth from workers, consumers and the planet. That old saw is absurd and requires the belief in at least two major fallacies: That something is magically “created” out of nothing, and that capitalism itself, and not the workforce or public institutions, “creates wealth.” There is nothing capitalism has ever done that couldn’t be produced by an alternative. Nothing. And Green alternatives would have the massive advantage of sustainable production, which capitalism will never achieve.

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J Thomas 12.22.14 at 1:01 am

#271 Plume

You’ve always been a pompous, long-winded blowhard, who tends to jump in and make unprovoked personal attacks. And you never support your insults with actual evidence.

Hey, I like him. He has a lot of good ideas. Some of them were new to me. Some of them have a lot of support, and some of the others are plausible. That’s worth a lot of insult.

He kind of reminds me of an RA Lafferty character, from Fourth Mansions.

This Bagley had a fantastic erudition (though much of what he knew happened not to be so), a fertile mind, a gift for invective that had left scar tissue on the great and near great for a generation and a half, a wanton contempt for all mankind except a few always temporary favorites, and a deep love for a red-necked brawl.

Go ahead and insult him if you want to, there’s no real harm in it. But we could do with a few more like him provided they could somewhat get along with each other.

(Can you imagine an argument here with four Bruce Wilders arguing with each other, no two agreeing? I’d probably just go away until it was over.)

275

Plume 12.22.14 at 1:09 am

It’s strange that critiques of capitalism trigger, if not hatred, then serious levels of anger and hysteria.

Why? Why should it be off limits? Why should it be revered and held sacred?

Capitalism is immoral for a host of reasons, but for these especially. First, it is a system dependent upon economic apartheid and massive imbalances in compensation. In order to make a profit, the capitalist must sell a product for more than it costs them to make. And in order to make their own fortune, they must keep the majority of the surplus value generated by their workforce. As in, they pay themselves for the work others do for them. They don’t pay themselves for their own production alone. And they already value their own production above anyone else’s to begin with — which is illogical and irrational. They would never think of paying even one employee equal to their own production, even though they might be far more productive. And their share of that production diminishes as their workforce increases, but they pay themselves even more when it does increase. The bigger the business, the more the CEO tends to take as their personal cut, even though their own working input is less and less.

Capitalism also incentivizes the production of junk. Anything to make a buck. And we throw most of that away. We throw half of our food away, while millions of humans literally starve to death each year, and at least a billion are hungry. Walk through any Target or Walmart and ask yourself how much duplication exists on the shelves, and how much production is actually worthwhile. In the capitalist system, because the entire purpose of going into business is to make money for oneself, it doesn’t matter what crap is made. If a capitalist could sell shit on a stick, they would. We know they would. That’s the history.

So, ye champions of capitalism, I challenge you all. Look deeply at the history of primitive accumulation, of colonial empires, of slavery, genocide and the rape of natural resources all to make a few people rich. Look at capitalism’s Grow or Die imperative. Think deeply about the inequality created by a system that concentrates so much wealth and power at the top, and exploits the shit out of workers, consumers and the earth. Consider 100% of the human population — not just the richest 20% — and the loss of 50% of our wildlife just since 1970. Consider that capitalism has been bailed out more than 100 times just since that same year.

Do you still think it’s the best system for this planet? Do you still think we can’t do better?

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Plume 12.22.14 at 1:12 am

J Thomas,

Take a look at the thread. I’m just returning fire. Bruce swooped in and called me an idiot earlier, and the two of us weren’t have any dialogue prior to that. His pattern is to appear out of nowhere, and then launch a personal attack, make dumbass assertions and never support them.

Don’t be like the NFL referee who sees the second punch, but not the first.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 1:33 am

Collin Street @271,

Businesses being run for profit is an essential problem. Take profit away and you instantly get closer to “fair.” It’s not the only necessary step. But it’s a big one. The need to make a profit means that an extra amount of money must be baked into the price and taken out of the worker’s pocket, and that money means consumers pay more than the good or service cost to make. There is zero value added for the consumer in the deal — or the workers. Obviously. They actually lose value and compensation. This occurs with obscenely high executive compensation, too, or money spent on shareholder dividends, marketing, unsold merchandise, tax avoidance lawyers, etc. etc. Consumers and and workers lose the more money kept by the business owner, or dispersed to shareholders, etc. And the higher the margin, the more padding in the price and loss for workers. Add to that an unlimited rein as far as the ratio of executive pay to rank and file and you get a double whammy for workers.

Even if there is no repeal and replacement of capitalism — which I think is absolutely necessary, or we won’t survive as a species — we should at least set a cap on that ratio. Orwell thought 10 to 1 good. I prefer 4 to 1. The public sector is typically in the 5-1 range, so perhaps something in between. But that ratio of ownership/executive pay to rank and file is where the vast majority of income inequality begins. Much of it can be solved with a cap. Inequality of wealth, access, education, health care, etc. etc. — those are still other, separate issues.

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David 12.22.14 at 1:43 am

You bring up Marx and suddenly social democrats become free market hawks.

279

David 12.22.14 at 1:46 am

But what Plume is saying shouldn’t be controversial – the question, literally, is not whether we should continue with capitalism, but what will replace it. Capitalism cannot continue to accumulate productive forces much longer. The resources of the Earth will not support it.

I would think a doomer like Bruce Wilder could understand that without trotting out asinine capitalism apologia because he hates ”utopian” schemes.

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Brett Dunbar 12.22.14 at 1:59 am

Plume we get angry at you because you lie.

Firstly it is patently obvious that capitalist states are much much richer than the various non-capitalist states. And that they have a higher rate of economic growth. In rich countries obesity is a problem of poverty, in all previous societies to be fat you had to be rich.

All of the rich countries use a market economy.

Capitalist states were at the forefront of destroying slavery and the slave trade, which had been a characteristic of pre-capitalist states.

A lot of states don’t have effective competitive markets; they tend to have much higher levels of waste. For example poor legal infrastructure in India limits firms growth to the size that they can be managed by the founder’s immediate family leading to a textile industry that is remarkably inefficient. In a placebo controlled blinded experiment carried out by the Accenture management consultancy in India for the world bank managed to get a 17% increase in efficiency in one year by adopting what are standard practice in more competitive market economies

Capitalism penalises waste, as it is cost without producing income.

The whole point of trade is that it leave both parties better off. In the case of employment the employer attaches a higher value to the labour than the cash while the employee attaches a higher value to the cash than the labour. Both have exploited the other.

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J Thomas 12.22.14 at 2:02 am

#275 Plume

Don’t be like the NFL referee who sees the second punch, but not the first.

Sorry, I’m not a referee but just another commenter. Do whatever you want, I just wanted to say that Bruce Wilder has written some good stuff.

#278 David

I would think a doomer like Bruce Wilder could understand that without trotting out asinine capitalism apologia because he hates ”utopian” schemes.

I haven’t seen him do that in this thread. Which of his comments do you think do that?

He tends to criticise people who could be interpreted as saying “All we need to do is X and then everything will be fine” just like he criticises people who say “The system we have now is running fine and if you aren’t successful in it you should just work harder”. I haven’t noticed him defend capitalism so much as attack people who think they have simplistic solutions.

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David 12.22.14 at 2:09 am

Sorry, I actually misread a few Brett Dunbar posts as being from Bruce Wilder.

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J Thomas 12.22.14 at 2:13 am

#279 Brett Dunbar

In a placebo controlled blinded experiment carried out by the Accenture management consultancy in India for the world bank managed to get a 17% increase in efficiency in one year by adopting what are standard practice in more competitive market economies

That sounds interesting. Could you provide a link?

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Val 12.22.14 at 2:22 am

@ 279
As I am never tired of saying, wealth does not have a clear direct relationship with health or happiness (as you seem to imply).

Longevity and infant mortality rates are better in Cuba than the USA, for example. And while in most societies happiness seems to relate to income, it seems that what people actually want is a little bit more than they currently have – it doesn’t seem to have much to do with absolute wealth.

Capitalist societies may have more money than others for a variety of reasons (one being that they have an impetus to move production and services from the household to the market), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are ‘better off’. You are confusing money with value.

I haven’t entered this discussion before of guilt about how little of the prescribed reading of Marx I actually did as an undergraduate all those years ago, but you are talking about something I actually know something about.

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Val 12.22.14 at 2:30 am

@279
and – in rich countries as well as in poorer countries, obesity is largely a problem of capitalism – selling junk food, cars and passive entertainment – for profit.

The fast food industry does a terrific job of profiting out of making people fat. Just cos they’re good at it, doesn’t mean its a good thing to do.

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Collin Street 12.22.14 at 3:02 am

> Plume we get angry at you because you lie.

I personally get angry because we get stuff like 276 “profit is terrible” in response to my 270 “most companies are run to feather the nests of their senior management, and eliminating the profit motive won’t stop this; profit might be terrible, but it’s not the biggest problem here”.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 3:27 am

Brett @279,

No, I didn’t lie. I told the truth. And that makes you and blind cheerleaders like you angry.

I keep giving you facts and figures and you keep ignoring them, because the truth is a major inconvenience to you. How did capitalists become rich? By stealing from their workers and treating them like shit. How did nations become capitalist? By stealing land from the masses and killing their ability to self-provide. Through force and coercion, so they had no choice but to go into the new factories and work like dogs. And how did capitalist nations become rich? By stealing natural resources and labor from non-capitalist countries, forcing their people into slavery and other horrors. Through imperialism, genocide, slavery and theft.

So you brag about capitalist nations being richer than the nations they crushed, exploited and stole from. You brag about capitalist nations being richer than non-capitalist nations after they’ve had popular revolutions to fight off tyrants we backed. You brag about capitalist nations being richer than non-capitalist nations, even though those capitalist nations had a century or more head start. As if they started the race at the same time. As if those capitalists nations didn’t do everything in their power to crush the non-capitalist upstarts after their revolutions.

And that wealth? Within those rich capitalist nations the wealth is and was always concentrated at the top. There is nothing to brag about when the few rule the many and the few are rich at the expense of the many. That’s not an indication of the success of a particular economic system. That’s an indication of its abject failure.

And, Val and others have mentioned, “wealth” does not equal health, happiness or quality of life. Poorer nations can and do have much better health and happiness metrics than we do.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 3:34 am

And, Brett, capitalism prolonged slavery in America and other parts of the world. It made slavery highly profitable again, with the Industrial Revolution, and especially the Cotton Gin. Prior to that, the South was finding it less than economically viable. The rise of capitalism in America gave it new life and rejuvenated that evil.

King Cotton’s Long Shadow

Slavery and Capitalism

The Half has never been told

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Plume 12.22.14 at 3:43 am

Brett,

And your last assertion about trade? Not all trade is capitalist, obviously. It was something quite different from that for thousands of years. Capitalism is a recent phenomenon, which didn’t become widespread even in its first home (England) until the 18th century, and didn’t dominate the world until the 20th. And, no, trade doesn’t necessarily leave both parties better off, and conservatives tend not to even see beyond their narrow idea of “both parties.” In our highly integrated system, capitalist “trades” have repercussions far beyond the initial transactions, including the impact on the environment, natural resources, workers and consumers in general, etc.

I’m an anti-capitalist, not anti-trade or anti-commerce. And I’m a “Green” anti-capitalist, specifically. So while I’m 100% against all capitalist modes of production, I’m not in favor of just any old alternative. It should be egalitarian, democratic and sustainable. It should be “Green.”

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mattski 12.22.14 at 4:11 am

Val,

wealth does not have a clear direct relationship with health or happiness (as you seem to imply).

But did Brett Dunbar really imply that? I’m not so sure.

You are confusing money with value.

I read BD as making a narrower argument about the production of wealth, although in many respects money IS a surrogate for value. Just not all types of value, nor does it equate to happiness in any straightforward arithmetic way.

I have heard it said that money does correlate with happiness up to income levels of 60K/yr. And that sounds eminently plausible to me. BD, istm, is making the valid point that markets are the best way to generate wealth. The question of distribution of wealth is somewhat different. We can have markets AND a fair amount of redistribution. But if we don’t have markets it’s going to be difficult to raise peoples living standards, as well as innovate new and better solutions to the various challenges we face.

291

Plume 12.22.14 at 4:37 am

Mattksi,

But Marx didn’t suggest that we do away with markets, nor have I. We need to do away with capitalist markets (and modes of production), yes. But not markets, generally.

And, Mattski, Brett does appear to be basing his entire idea of capitalism’s superiority on its ability to “create wealth.” And that it can do this better than non-capitalist nations, apparently. Though, again, he seems oblivious to other factors, like head starts, coups and embargoes and such. Why make that point if it’s not an attempt to say how important “wealth creation” is?

And he just presents too many howlers, and I’ve yet to see him supply any data or links to support his claims. Like this one:

A lot of states don’t have effective competitive markets; they tend to have much higher levels of waste.

There is no evidence that the lack of “competitive markets” leads to higher levels of waste, and we do know that America itself is the most wasteful nation on earth. We contribute nearly 33% of the total for the entire earth, and we currently throw away roughly half of our food*. And “competitive markets” are extremely wasteful. They duplicate goods and services and then try to compete, usually on price, drive each other out of business (creative destruction) over time, which leaves husks of buildings which once had tenants, unusable equipment, wasted office supplies, etc. etc. Not to mention the human disruptions.

Capitalism is set up to create massive waste, if for no other reason than it doesn’t produce to order or for need, and it wants consumers to keep buying new things (not repair the old). It produces with the hope of future sales, and its hope is tied to the effectiveness of its marketing in creating “want”. The failure rate for new businesses in America is very high, as a result. “Competition” and the absence of producing for need and to order are huge reasons for that.

*Close to $165 billion annually in food waste alone.

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mattski 12.22.14 at 4:44 am

Plume,

I don’t want to re-hash our many past debates on this subject. I’d rather let Brett Dunbar reply to you directly. I’ll just say the following:

We need to do away with capitalist markets

Seems to me you’re stepping squarely into No True Scotsman territory here.

Peace. And, GO PACKERS!

293

Anarcissie 12.22.14 at 5:30 am

If it is true, as Marx says in the Manifesto, in praising the revolutionary nature of capitalism, that ‘the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society,’ — as seems to have been the case then, as now — then we can we not count on liberalism-capitalism, being a continuously dynamic system, to eventually enter a state in which it finally disposes of itself? The question, it seems to me, is not whether but when.

Of course there are many routes leading away from the present moment, and some are happier than others.

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Mike Schilling 12.22.14 at 10:24 am

I’d concentrate on the Paramount films, proceeding to the early MGM ones if time permits.

295

J Thomas 12.22.14 at 11:13 am

#289 Mattski

I read BD as making a narrower argument about the production of wealth

He could easily be wrong.

In recent centuries and particularly in recent decades, we’ve produced a lot of wealth. Lots of people want to take credit for that. Some people want to attribute it to capitalism, but the invention of capitalism may have been more a response to the wealth than its cause.

Some people want to say it’s militarism that’s produced the wealth. People build stuff for the military and then they figure out civilian uses. They put a lot of people to work and then those people can afford to buy stuff. It was WWII that got us out of the Depression, and it’s all the wars since that have kept the economy going. Maybe.

Scientists want to think it’s science that did it. We came up with lots of new ways to do things that were more productive, using science. Of course people invented stuff before science, using trial and error, but maybe that was slower.

A lot of it could be fossil fuels. There was a time when most of the power we had available was human muscle power. Then we got oxen etc. Fairly suddenly people were building long trenches and ramparts and putting roofs on trilithons. Because they could. Fossil fuels are gigantic wealth. With horses it can take a day to travel to the county seat and back, and when you get home you have to care for your horses. It’s tremendous freedom to go wherever you want at 50 mph. Fossil fuels give us unlimited energy until they run out.

Lots of people want to take credit for the wealth. It was probably a bunch of things that all had to work together, and when any one of them stops then it’s over.

I have heard it said that money does correlate with happiness up to income levels of 60K/yr. And that sounds eminently plausible to me.

You need enough money so you don’t have to worry about money all the time. Worrying about money all the time will take a lot of the enjoyment out of life.

BD, istm, is making the valid point that markets are the best way to generate wealth.

Do you think so? So, you make something to sell at the market and you don’t know how many will sell. People go to market hoping they’ll find what they need but they don’t know ahead of time what they can buy. Doesn’t that sound tremendously wasteful?

I expect that a whole lot of the economy has depended on long-term contracts. Both sides can sleep easy knowing their bread and butter is taken care of. Then they play the market game with their surplus, to make up for their planning failures. Of course there’s a push to get people to give up their long-term contracts and just depend on the futures markets….

296

Val 12.22.14 at 11:30 am

Btw Plume I think you were too harsh to Bruce Wilder in your earlier comment (can’t be bothered scrolling back to find it, you know the one). BW talks a good talk on history, though as he doesn’t bother giving sources or anything like that (as far as I’ve seen) I’m not totally sure how reliable it is – but interesting. History is a good thing, I like to see it – rather than people spouting off about ‘human nature’ etc (I hate that).

297

Chris Warren 12.22.14 at 12:10 pm

Those citing the Okishio theorem need to be very careful.

If wages are fixed then any increased productivity can only go to capitalists who will move capital to equalise profits.

It is a truism to note that when wages go down in value (ie share of GNP) profits go up.

Okishio’s theorem validates Marx’s analysis for those who have an understanding of countervailing tendencies.

Okishio’s assumption was the introduction of a countervailing tendency – falling share of GNP flowing to actual producers.

298

Plume 12.22.14 at 1:12 pm

Mattski @292,

No. Capitalism is fundamentally different from all other previous forms of commerce. I’ve noted why, as did Marx. In form, structure, goals and methods. It’s different. Fundamentally.

“Purity” is not an issue here. Scotsmen aren’t either.

If, for example, we had fair trade, non-profit, use-value, green, sustainable markets, they would not be “capitalist.” The green aspect wouldn’t be needed to keep them from being capitalist. But, to me, they’re necessary in order to keep our species viable on this earth.

IMO, we need to go to a pre-ordered, local market, bottom up structure, but world markets could interact with that as well. There could be an interplay, just as there is now, but hopefully, the entire world would make the switch. We have globalized capitalism at this point, which was primarily our doing, and which wasn’t the case before the 20th century. There is no reason why this must always be in place, or that a true alternative revolution, starting in the United States, might also become global.

As for the Packers. I’m a Rams’ fan. Not much to root for these days.

299

Plume 12.22.14 at 1:22 pm

Val #296,

I’m harsh only when someone strikes first.

And the thing I’ve noticed about Bruce, when he’s not too busy hurling unprovoked insults my way, is that he makes most of the same arguments about capitalism I do. He just can’t stand the idea of proposals for alternative systems. Which I find really bizarre. It’s like someone spending years and years, breaking down all of the problems with a particular car, but does nothing to replace it. He or she seemingly would rather hold onto that car so they can display their critical knowledge on that subject. They don’t actually want to get a better car. That would ruin everything!!

And on the subject of so-called “utopian projects.” My proposals aren’t utopian at all. They’re common sense, logical, rational alternatives. And they’re bottom up. According to Marx (and others), who railed against utopians, those would be top down. Hal Draper writes about that here.

300

mattski 12.22.14 at 1:35 pm

Plume,

First things first. What part of

Green Bay is the third-oldest franchise in the NFL, organized and playing in 1919.[5] The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.

do you not understand?

:^)

301

Collin Street 12.22.14 at 1:37 pm

> I’m harsh only when someone strikes first.

To be blunt, this is a damned fool position. It’s based on knowing that you didn’t do something to cause a response, that you didn’t unbeknownst to yourself “start” things, and you simply do not — cannot reliably — have this knowledge.

[I’m sure you think you’re justified. Everyone thinks they’re justified, that’s why they do what they do. And yet people still do wrong things: the only possible explanation is that people do wrong things thinking, mistakenly, that they’re in the right. And you’re not special here, and this is something you’re not immune to: you need to doubt your self-righteousness more.]

302

mattski 12.22.14 at 1:37 pm

JT,

He could easily be wrong.

If you spent more time paying attention to the real world and less time paying attention to your imagination… your comments would be A LOT more interesting.

303

Plume 12.22.14 at 1:38 pm

To be clearer on the differences between capitalist and non-capitalist markets, updated:

Capitalism is M-C-M. Money buying labor (as a commodity), to make commodities for sale, in exchange for more money. Exchange value being paramount.

We’d have to dump that and go with something like C-M-C. Produce commodities for money (or some alternative) to buy other commodities. Use value being paramount. And the production would be worker-controlled, publicly owned, not privately held. All citizens would be equal owners of the means of production overall.

304

Plume 12.22.14 at 1:45 pm

Collin @301,

Relax. A direct, personal insult is never justified when someone is making a case for an economic system, and not, themselves, hurling insults at posters on that board, first. Especially when the poster making that case isn’t even having a dialogue with that person.

It’s based on knowing that you didn’t do something to cause a response, that you didn’t unbeknownst to yourself “start” things, and you simply do not — cannot reliably — have this knowledge

I’m fine with having caused a response. I want responses. That’s why I posted here. But there is a difference between “you’re an idiot!!!” and “Well, I think if you look at X part of your proposal, you’ll find it has some holes. Here’s where I think you went wrong and why.”

This isn’t rocket science.

305

Plume 12.22.14 at 1:48 pm

Mattski @300,

I know. But I picked my sports franchises at a very young age, long before I became a leftist, and I remain loyal to them. It’s one of the few places in my life, in fact, where subsequent knowledge hasn’t forced serious reevaluation of values, etc. etc.

:>)

306

mattski 12.22.14 at 1:49 pm

301

I think this is basically correct. One of my pet peeves and reasons for commenting here is I don’t think there is enough attention paid on the Left to the spiritual aspect of politics. In a nutshell, by ‘spiritual’ I mean that we are responsible for the tone of our speech, and our tone is important.

So, when someone like Jesus says, “turn the other cheek,” the message is that each of us is responsible for breaking the cycle of retribution by absorbing a blow and NOT returning it. This can be extremely difficult to do. I know I fail at this goal often, but I still hold it up as a standard to be strived after.

Too much of our political thinking is characterized by a pointing of the finger at others.

307

J Thomas 12.22.14 at 1:54 pm

#302 Mattski

“He could easily be wrong.”

If you spent more time paying attention to the real world and less time paying attention to your imagination… your comments would be A LOT more interesting.

Tell me what I missed in the real world.

The real world has created a lot of wealth recently. A lot of different people want to take credit for that, among them capitalism-apologizers.

What method should you use if you want to decide which of them are right? Should you just believe the capitalism-apologizers instead of any of the others, for some reason or another? What would that reason be?

308

mattski 12.22.14 at 1:56 pm

Oh, yeah. Speaking of rank hypocrisy, I’m a Giants fan.

309

J Thomas 12.22.14 at 1:59 pm

#301 Collin Street

I’m sure you think you’re justified. Everyone thinks they’re justified, that’s why they do what they do. And yet people still do wrong things: the only possible explanation is that people do wrong things thinking, mistakenly, that they’re in the right. And you’re not special here, and this is something you’re not immune to: you need to doubt your self-righteousness more.

Don’t we all!

People particularly tend to lose their doubt when they find other people who agree with them. That makes them a community enforcing community norms.

310

Plume 12.22.14 at 2:00 pm

J Thomas,

Do you think so? So, you make something to sell at the market and you don’t know how many will sell. People go to market hoping they’ll find what they need but they don’t know ahead of time what they can buy. Doesn’t that sound tremendously wasteful?

Exactly. As mentioned. Producing for future sales that may or may not happen is incredibly wasteful. Anyone who’s worked in retail knows how many products are sent off to “remainder houses,” unsold. And consumers pay for those unsold items. That’s baked into the price. As is insurance to cover them, etc.

I also find the triumphalism about capitalism amazingly tone deaf, especially after 2008. Even if we put aside the other aspects I’ve linked to — slavery, famine, wars, the theft of natural resources from colonies, etc. etc. . . . even if we just look at capitalism in the very narrow prism of its own ups and downs . . . . it is constantly going into crisis. Recession, depression, weak recoveries, jobless recoveries, bank failures, bubbles busting, etc. etc. It is constantly being bailed out by tax payers — again, more than 100 times internationally just since 1970.

It’s frustrating to have these discussions with diehard supporters of capitalism. They never deal with any criticisms. They’ve got their ears plugged up. They just ignore them and repeat the mantra about “wealth creation” and “efficient markets.” At the very least, if they can’t deal with Marx and other anticapitalist critiques, they should read CT’s own John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics. At the very least.

311

Plume 12.22.14 at 2:03 pm

Mattski @306,

Agreed. Well said.

And further down. Which Giants team? I’m an SF Giants fan from waaay back.

312

mattski 12.22.14 at 2:13 pm

JT,

What method should you use if you want to decide which of them are right? Should you just believe the capitalism-apologizers instead of any of the others, for some reason or another? What would that reason be?

Use your judgement. Look at the facts, try to come up with a working hypothesis. You can always revise your hypothesis as new information comes in. This is the scientific method, and it’s not a bad idea.

But to simply say, “well, it could be A, or it could be B, or it could be C, or it could be D…” is not interesting, to me at least. Rather, it feels like spinning my wheels.

To me, capitalism is merely the freedom to trade. Plume means well, but I think what he’s doing–without being aware of it–is using the word “capitalism” as a proxy for “bad” or “evil.” There is ‘good trade’ and we call that ‘socialism’, there is ‘bad trade’ and we call that ‘capitalism.’

I don’t see this as productive.

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mattski 12.22.14 at 2:15 pm

Plume, if it was San Francisco it wouldn’t be hypocritical!

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Plume 12.22.14 at 2:23 pm

Mattski @312,

Honestly, no. I’m not using it as a proxy. And I think I’ve gone into some serious detail as to why I despise capitalism. I broke down how it’s different from all previous forms of production. IMO, if you read that — and I know it’s a lot, and perhaps too much — I really don’t see how you could dismiss that all as proxy talk. I honestly don’t see how that’s possible.

Please review the links (and facts, data, etc.) I’ve posted throughout this thread. There have been many. And you can thank the automatic moderation system for the lack of even more. I tried. I really tried!

;>)

315

Plume 12.22.14 at 2:26 pm

This David Harvey lecture is quite instructive, pardon the pun. It’s set to animation from RSA to make it “fun” in a sense. But he says, in a very short period of time, what I’ve been trying to say in far too many words, regarding capitalism’s crisis mode.

Well worth a look, if you haven’t already seen it.

The Crisis of Capitalism

316

MPAVictoria 12.22.14 at 2:57 pm

@Plume 299

BW is one of the best commenters here. He is also a great example of the “everyone an inch to my right is a stooge and everyone an inch to my left is a maniac” school of political thought.

Don’t take it personally, I try not to.
/Don’t always succeed though.

317

J Thomas 12.22.14 at 4:11 pm

#312 mattski

“What method should you use if you want to decide which of them are right? Should you just believe the capitalism-apologizers instead of any of the others, for some reason or another? What would that reason be?”

Use your judgement. Look at the facts, try to come up with a working hypothesis. You can always revise your hypothesis as new information comes in. This is the scientific method, and it’s not a bad idea.

Well see, there’s a whole lot of propaganda and not much data. If you look at nations, there aren’t all that many nations and you need a measure to decide how capitalistic they are and how successful they are. Lots and lots of confounding variables, notably that nations which get into wars against stronger nations tend to get their economies hurt, and nations which are less “capitalistic” tend to get beat up on by the USA. On the highest level we have a capitalistic world market and nations which do not fit into that tend to suffer for not fitting into it.

But we can look at specific cases. Haiti has mostly-unregulated capitalism. Their government is basicly too incompetent to interfere much. They are one of the poorest nations in the world.

Consider another example, Mali. Capitalism is very strong there. Half their people are extremely poor. 80% of them farm, largely growing cotton for export. When cotton prices are low they suffer. They also export a lot of gold. It used to be, their government thought that the gold should be mined by Mali citizens who might then spend most of the money in Mali. But then they became more capitalistic and invited foreign investors in. The foreigners use foreign machines and engineers to mine the gold very quickly. They export the gold, and then they export most of the money. They give some of it to the Mali government for the right to take the gold from Mali.

There are a whole lot of nations that haven’t done all that well under capitalism. We can argue that they wouldn’t have done any better any other way. But that’s using our ideology in place of facts.

There just is not much solid data. My own candidates for the source of our vast wealth are science plus fossil fuels. Without the science we’re mostly poor. Traditionally steel was central for industrialism, and if you look at the places that had iron and coal then WWI makes more sense. England. France’s ores clustered around Lorraine, Germany had good ore in the Ruhr and more in what’s now Poland. The USA had plenty. Sweden had some. It was hard to be a big military power then unless you had your own ore. and warships needed coal wherever they went, and you couldn’t send your warships to places you couldn’t refuel them. Important nations needed colonies to provide coaling stations.

Was capitalism the big thing that made nations successful back then? No, it was resources. You could have as much capitalism as you wanted, but if you didn’t have the resources then other nations would walk over you.

So anyway, you can use “scientific method” to decide that capitalism is the big difference that resulted in Britain and then the USA dominating the planet instead of Germany. But try to notice that to do that you’re using a lot of imagination and there isn’t much solid data.

To me, capitalism is merely the freedom to trade.

Oh! In that case I agree. People do a lot better when they can cooperate instead of having to do everything alone. Trade is a big part of cooperation. If that’s all capitalism means to you, then I’m sure you’re right.

And in that case you have no particular fondness for limited liability corporations and banks etc, right? We can get rid of all that stuff and keep the freedom to trade, and we’ll do fine.

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engels 12.22.14 at 4:17 pm

To me, capitalism is merely the freedom to trade.

To me, vegetarianism is merely not eating radishes.

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engels 12.22.14 at 4:32 pm

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Nabakov 12.22.14 at 4:36 pm

Coming in far too late for the mid-thread “your pile of skulls is bigger than mine” stoush but here’s Gore Vidal from his “Pink Triangle Yellow Star” essay.

“In the German concentration camps, Jews wore yellow stars while homosexuals wore pink triangles. I was present when Christopher Isherwood tried to make this point to a young Jewish movie producer. ‘After all,’ said Isherwood, ‘Hitler killed six hundred thousand homosexuals.’ The young man was not impressed. ‘But Hitler killed six million Jews,’ he said sternly. ‘What are you?’ asked Isherwood. ‘In real estate?’”

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Brett Bellmore 12.22.14 at 4:36 pm

I view myself as a supporter of capitalism, and wouldn’t much miss limited liablity corporations. Banks, on the other hand, do provide some useful services, if they don’t get too big. But credit unions provide them just as well.

A lot of nations haven’t done really well under capitalism, that is certainly true. The thing is, you don’t need much of an explanation for things going badly. Going badly is kind of the natural state of things, there are a virtual infinity of ways things can go badly, relatively few ways they can go well. (Which is another way of stating the laws of thermodynamics, not at all incidentally.) It’s things going well that requires explaining. Not things going badly, for which there are an embarassing excess of adequate explanations.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 4:48 pm

I think part of the problem with debates like this is that people use different words for the same thing, or the same word for vastly different things.

As mentioned, “capitalism” is a unique configuration, with unique structure, internal logic, dynamics, etc. etc. It can’t be accurately substituted for all business ventures, for all kinds of trade or commerce. So when an anticapitalist is critical of capitalism itself, all too many people think they’re being critical of all business, trade and commerce. From my point of view, this is why they often just seem to block out that critique, close their eyes, plug up their ears, etc. etc.

If someone makes their own chairs, for instance, with their own hands, with their own sweat, and they haul those chairs over to their customers (or let their customers come to them), receive payment for their efforts in their own two hands, they aren’t “capitalists.” But if they hire workers to build their chairs, and they appropriate the surplus value generated by those workers for themselves, they are. To me, this is when the immorality of the model kicks in big time — though it may exist prior to that in the lack of fair trade for initial parts and so on. But it’s really in the form of making one’s money via the underpayment of wages for workers — or, as it’s sometimes called, unpaid labor hours.

A capitalist makes his or her money via that unpaid labor. The more they can generate, the more they get to keep for themselves. And usually, the bigger the company, the more unpaid labor is created. Which is why a typical Ma and Pa shop’s owner probably pays themselves maybe 2-4 times more than their workers . . . whereas an average CEO pays themselves 300 times their rank and file. In Fortune 100 companies, it’s an average of 1000 to 1.

That’s clearly immoral, IMO.

It’s one thing to pay yourself for your own production. It’s still another for you to claim large portions of your workers’ production for yourself as well. And capitalism has an obvious, built-in conflict between ownership and worker because of that. The more the owner wants, the less he or she pays their workers. And/or, the more they automate, ship jobs overseas for (Foxconn) pennies on the dollar.

These problems, this immorality, can readily be solved via democratization of the workplace and various co-op models. They are no longer “capitalist” at that point, if there are no longer any “capitalists” appropriating the surplus value generated by the workforce for themselves.

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J Thomas 12.22.14 at 4:53 pm

Banks, on the other hand, do provide some useful services, if they don’t get too big.

I think a lot of our problems would be very different if we could establish the tradition that when a corporation doubles in size it should split into two competing corporations. Like bacteria.

It’s things going well that requires explaining.

Yes, exactly! We know that capitalism is not enough of an explanation because the large majority of capitalist nations are doing poorly. The winners then must be doing something *else* right.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 4:57 pm

Brett @321,

The problem with that view is this: In order for some people to do well under capitalism, many, many times that number have to do poorly — with some number worse off that just poorly. In order for some people to have “plenty,” a ton of people can’t have much of anything.

It’s a finite world, with finite resources, including “wealth.” You can’t go beyond 100% of something, so when the richest 20% suck up 85% of all resources, that leaves just 15% for the rest. As in, 80% of the population gets to choose from just 15% of what’s left. Contrary to conservative belief, it is a zero sum game.

When the richest 1% of the nation brings in nearly 25% of all income, that leaves just 75% for the bottom 99%. When just 85 human beings hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion combined, that leaves that bottom with far, far less to choose from — and in desperate straits. When just 400 Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 60% of the country combined, that, too, is wealth unavailable to anyone outside that 400.

The Walton heirs, just the six of them, hold more wealth than the bottom 40% of the country combined. Their personal wealth accumulation is derived from the grotesque underpayment of wages to their employees. The more those Walton heirs take, the less is available for their workers.

Zero sum. Yet another reason why capitalism is immoral to its very core.

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J Thomas 12.22.14 at 5:06 pm

If someone makes their own chairs, for instance, with their own hands, with their own sweat, and they haul those chairs over to their customers (or let their customers come to them), receive payment for their efforts in their own two hands, they aren’t “capitalists.” But if they hire workers to build their chairs, and they appropriate the surplus value generated by those workers for themselves, they are.

I figure that can get blurry pretty easy. If a lot of people want your chairs and can’t get them, and you hire somebody to help you make them, that isn’t necessarily bad. If they use your tools while you show them how to do the work, why shouldn’t you get part of the money? If both agree, they could pay you to teach them and pay for the use of the tools etc, and then sell their own chairs, is that so different? And then when they can do it, they take their savings and buy their own tools and set up their own shop and you aren’t exploiting them at all.

How about if instead of teaching them to do the work, you teach them one single job and you pay them to do that. They don’t ever have a chance to be independent. There’s no good way to estimate what their work is worth. Say if it didn’t get done then no chairs would be completed, that says it’s essential like most of the other jobs. But what’s it worth?

There are various things that we like, that are easiest done by big teams of specialists. I’m not sure there’s any good way to decide how much to compensate them all. If we can find ways that people agree to, so it gets done, then good. Otherwise we have to do without.

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Brett Bellmore 12.22.14 at 5:06 pm

“It’s a finite world, with finite resources, including “wealth.” ”

Seriously? So, who got poorer when we moved from hunter-gatherer bare edge of survival, to today? Somebody must have gotten even poorer, by your reckoning.

327

engels 12.22.14 at 5:15 pm

So, who got poorer when we moved from hunter-gatherer

Anyone who works more than 2 hours 9 minutes per day

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Plume 12.22.14 at 5:21 pm

J Thomas @325,

The “surplus value” is above and beyond costs. So the capitalist’s costs for tools, space, utilities, training, etc. are factored in. When he or she takes money in addition to that — again, the surplus value generated by the workforce — that’s where the immorality kicks in. A business owner should get their investment back and money for their own time. Anticapitalists don’t begrudge them that. We’re talking about the appropriation of the surplus value created by labor.

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Brett Bellmore 12.22.14 at 5:29 pm

Ah, yes, one of Marx’s greater idiocies, the labor theory of value.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 5:35 pm

Engels @327,

Thanks for the article. Insightful.

Brett @326,

That strikes me as quite the Hail Mary pass. An attempt at a comparison with many thousands of years in between. And even so, Engels’ article is a pretty good response. Still, I think comparisons between people living in the here and now are generally more relevant . . . at least those within the general time frame of the system being discussed. That would, roughly speaking, be the 18th century for its Coming Out party in England, on through its myriad crises to today.

But, to me, a much better picture of capitalism’s built-in generation of inequality (and its zero sum construct) comes from comparing apples and apples in one particular year.

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engels 12.22.14 at 5:35 pm

Actually one of Adam Smith’s ‘greater idiocies’ but don’t let that stop you spewing your know-nothing propaganda over the thread.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 5:37 pm

Brett @329,

It wasn’t his theory. He took Adam Smith’s and Ricardo’s and refined them. Ricardo’s wasn’t all that different from Marx’s version.

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mattski 12.22.14 at 6:03 pm

JT,

Just responding to last part of your 317 for now:

Basically yes, I agree that the laws governing commerce should be subject to democratic oversight. But as I have argued in the past, this is a problem of democracy and legislation rather than a problem of ‘systems’.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 6:16 pm

Mattski @333,

But when the system itself is anti-democratic, which is the case with capitalism, “democratic oversight” from the outside is generally ineffective. And when wealth equals power, and money equals speech, what can it really do?

I’m often accused of “utopianism” or “idealism.” But, as mentioned, I think my ideas are just common sense. The real utopians and idealists (IMO) are the folks who think that letting arsonists run the firehouse is ever going to work.

To me, it makes far more sense, if a person believes in democracy — even democratic oversight — to start with a truly democratic system in place. And given the disproportionate place in our lives of the economy, leaving that system outside the bounds of actual, every day, operational democracy is just a recipe for futility.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 8:14 pm

Boiled down:

Which would likely be more effective?

1. Democratic oversight of an anti-democratic system
2. Democratic oversight of a democratic system.

Which makes more sense as a foundation?

1. An anti-democratic economic system, which requires democratic oversight and myriad laws to ensure even a modicum of human, civil, workers’ rights (etc), along with much needed mitigation of its upward redistribution of wealth, power, access, etc. etc.
2. An egalitarian, democratized system, with social justice baked right in, which needs no countervailing, external force to mitigate for upward redistribution. It doesn’t do that, from the get go.

. . . .

As in, why choose oil and water, when you can have water and more water?

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bob mcmanus 12.22.14 at 8:32 pm

Why and how I think of Marx while reading Cyberculture Theory

Marx =>
Lefebvre (+ de Certeau, overtly anti-Marx) =>
Gramsci => Stuart Hall + Raymond Williams =>
Bakardjieva

I suppose critically teaching the Theses on Feuerbach can prepare one for encountering these chains, but the chains are to me more important than any Critique of Marx

And no, I have not read and digested all of work of all of these writers, who has? I am not quite sure what knowing some names to drop actually means, but maybe it is like a map of a country I like to live in, but haven’t the time to completely explore.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 8:51 pm

Bob @336,

Not familiar with the first two in your diagram. Or Bakardjieva. But have read the others. What would you suggest for the last on your list?

Your comment makes me think of Harold Bloom, his Anxiety of Influence and the idea of intellectual/artistic precursors.

This review sums it up well, to begin things off:

By JOHN HOLLANDER
THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE
A Theory of Poetry.
By Harold Bloom.

Poets and prophets, like magicians, learn their craft from predecessors. And just as magicians will invoke the real or supposed source of an illusion as part of the patter, or distraction from what his hands are doing, the most ambitious poets also take some stance about sources in the past, perhaps for an analogous purpose.

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mattski 12.22.14 at 8:55 pm

Plume,

To talk, as you do, about ‘systems’ is to talk about effects, not causes.

An egalitarian, democratized system, with social justice baked right in…

Where does this come from? Why isn’t it here already? What happens, for example, when a majority thinks torture is appropriate?

339

William Timberman 12.22.14 at 9:00 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 265, 266

There are two difficulties, as I see it, with a historical extrapolation implying the evolution of human societies toward more complex forms of political and economic organization. First, there are the millions of people miserable while they lived and dead before their time who were left in the wake of this evolution. Had the process been more rational — more Marxian, if you will — perhaps these millions needn’t have been sacrificed, and we could have avoided the passed-down historical resentments which have been putting sand in the gears ever since. The second, and perhaps more imposing difficulty, is whether or not there are limits to this complexity, and if so, what those limits imply.

You speak of cycles in our institutions — growth, maturity and collapse — which I suppose can be visualized as a sort of sine wave imposed on the overall trend of increasing complexity. This seems a reasonable description, but the question I’d ask is whether these cycles aren’t in fact increasing in both amplitude and frequency. If so, might the Great Depression and Great Wars of the Twentieth Century not turn out to be a sort of dress rehearsal for something far nastier and far more comprehensive? The lens of a single lifetime is a poor instrument for gathering persuasive evidence one way or the other, and history, even very carefully studied, doesn’t offer as much additional insight as it might.

In following your comments here for some time, though, I get the impression that you’re of two minds yourself about how all this is going to turn out. Maybe it’s a matter of rational uncertainty, or one of mood, but in any event, it’s one case where I find uncertainty more persuasive than the usual assurances from the Chamber of Commerce (inclusive of, but not limited to, Krugman and DeLong.)

This has nothing to do with teaching Marx in introductory courses, I admit, or whether or not socialism will take away Brett Bellmore’s punchbowl and leave him in rags, but the successful artist — in this case, the OP — is always at least partially responsible for the value-added contributions of his audience, no?

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Plume 12.22.14 at 9:15 pm

We would have a Constitution, too, Mattski. Laws. Human rights encoded in that Constitution. We would have that plus a democratized economy and full democracy overall. Which is, to me at least, a thousand times better than having it without that democratized economy. And in our current system, and in our own Constitution, we’ve tended to give short shrift to human rights in favor of property rights.

For instance, our Bill of Rights actually has an amendment which protects the ownership of deadly pieces of metal, but there is no amendment that protects human beings from hunger, poverty, joblessness, homelessness, environmental toxins, or provides any guarantees for safe water and food, quality education or health care, etc. One would think that human rights would come before property rights. But not in our system.

I’ve answered many of your questions. Would appreciate some answers to some of mine. For instance, why would you support (even with the democratic checks you favor) an anti-democratic economic system, one that has generated so much inequality, oppression, violent dislocation, theft of natural resources, theft from workers, wars to keep its shipping lanes open, wars, coups, embargoes and civil wars to prevent alternatives from succeeding . . . massive waste and pollution, along with endless crises? Given that it has no history of doing even the very least to be expected from an economic system — allocate resources to everyone in at least an adequate measure — why do you support it? Even with those liberal checks and balances. Honestly, I don’t get it.

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Brett Dunbar 12.22.14 at 9:21 pm

I attempted to put in a link to a pdf of the paper, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

Anyway the final published version is at:

http://www.stanford.edu/~nbloom/DMM.pdf

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mattski 12.22.14 at 9:23 pm

why do you support it?

Do I support it? What is ‘IT’, anyway? As I said, you’re not talking about causes, you’re talking about effects. So from my perspective most of what you’re saying doesn’t make sense. That’s another reason I don’t want to re-hash this. I want to honor your good intentions and keep the vibes respectful between us.

343

Plume 12.22.14 at 9:31 pm

Mattksi,

Briefly, before I head out . . .

The reason it’s not here already? Because the folks with all the power don’t want it to be here. Obviously. An egalitarian system would end their power and their privileges. They have very large police forces and militaries to ensure they keep those in place. To me, this is no mystery at all.

It’s not here because the ruling class is very well organized, very strong, very well funded, has control of the vast majority of the wealth and resources in the world . . . as already noted . . . and, to top it off, has spent centuries (if not thousands of years) brainwashing the masses regarding their “proper place” in life. And, as Jay Gould once said, they can hire half the working class to kill the other half.

Egalitarians, in short, lack the power and resources to get our message across, and “the people” are generally too tired from working their butts off, and too worried about losing the little they do have, to want to risk the change. Unfortunately, until enough people with the means and the media decide that alternatives are necessary, this is going to be one, very long journey toward actual social justice for everyone.

The other possibility is that the current, unsustainable system collapses again, government bails it out as usual and has to tighten the screws just a bit too hard . . . and then, finally, people said enough is enough.

Enjoy your evening.

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Plume 12.22.14 at 9:35 pm

Mattski @342,

Quick comment. We cross-posted.

I think you can do better than that, and we can both keep that good vibe going. I’ve spent a lot of time detailing my thoughts about the capitalist system, what makes it unique and unprecedented, why it needs to be replaced, and some ideas for those replacements. I honestly don’t know how I could describe “it” more than I already have. I really think I presented more than enough for you to respond.

But, if not, so be it. We’ll both survive.

Will check back tomorrow.

Take care.

345

Brett Dunbar 12.22.14 at 10:04 pm

Plume is a fanatic. Which is why he lies. And why I have no interest in debating with him.

Economics is not a zero sum game.

Capitalism is generally democratic. Political democracy and capitalism evolved along side each other. Markets are essentially anarchic and function best with an impartial legal system with low levels of corruption and civil order. Dictators often favour their cronies and engage in other activities that distort markets such as widespread corruption and favouring politically well connected groups and industries, and political disputes in dictatorships are often violent.

There are rather a lot of capitalist democracies while it is pretty hard to find examples of non-capitalist democracies.

Capitalists played a leading role in the destruction of slavery, some of the fundamental ethical assumptions of classical economics are hostile to slavery. The UK declared slavery unlawful in England and Wales in 1774, abolished it in Scotland in 1776 banned the slave trade in 1807 and phased out slavery in most of the empire between 1831 and 1838. And then bullied much of the rest of the world into doing the same.

Democracy developed as the middle classes became wealthier was able to incorporate the working class by progressively widening the franchise.

One of the functions of the limited liability listed company is that it spreads the ownership of businesses widely, which is why it has spread so much since being developed in the UK in the 1860s. While you may not own shares directly you very likely do so as part of an institutional investor such as a pension fund.

Saying that 40% of the world population own no net assets is true but very misleading. It includes the 20% of the world population who are dependent children and who tend not to own anything. A sizeable fraction of the rest are young adults who may rent or have bought a house and have a mortgage and some other debts so their total liabilities may exceed their total assets.

Walmart and other supermarkets make large absolute profits due to being very large they don’t have large profit margins. 2% or so is typical.

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mattski 12.22.14 at 10:12 pm

Plume is indeed a fanatic, but he means well.

He could use a little of Ben Franklin’s caution, if you ask me.

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Brett Dunbar 12.22.14 at 10:36 pm

I’m not sure that really helps, well meaning fanatics have produced really big piles of skulls.

He could also consider what Oliver Cromwell wrote to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1650:

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

348

J. Parnell Thomas 12.22.14 at 10:43 pm

“I do not have the nagging doubt of ever wondering whether perhaps I am wrong.”
-Hendrick Verwoerd

349

J. Parnell Thomas 12.22.14 at 10:45 pm

I really have to start saying, “in the bowels of Christ” more often.

350

Bruce Wilder 12.22.14 at 10:48 pm

William Timberman @ 339

jch has accused me of being more hegelian than he is, and there may be some truth to that.

J Thomas, upthread, has gently tried to remind us that political economy is ultimately something we do. If we do the right thing for the wrong reasons, we do the right thing. If we have the right reasons, it is no assurance of doing the right thing or anything at all.

We act collectively within the strictures and imperatives of an emergent and yet still somehow immanent “system” of which we are, at best, only half-aware and, consequently, the collective “we” often seems unable to will either the reasons or the right.

As I have gotten older, I have come to see how paralyzing uncertainty is, and how much our social arrangements are shaped by the need to overcome and master both our own ignorance and are own reluctance and incapacity to know. The whole critique of political economy comes down to the capital fact of radical uncertainty, of vast ignorance, balanced against guesses and flashes of insight or vision driving us forward. If Marx had realized this, his Critique of Political Economy could have been much shorter (and written in English!).

We can not be more rational without a greater self-awareness. As long as we know not what we do, we are free to imagine ourselves free, without the terror of being free.

351

J. Parnell Thomas 12.22.14 at 10:50 pm

Anyway, I for one am not particularly worried about anything Plume says or does leading to a pile of skulls.

352

Chris Warren 12.22.14 at 11:04 pm

Given the topic was “teaching Marx to newbies”, and given the ensuing river of deliberate provocations and, possibly, innocent misconceptions: a new approach to teaching Marx is necessary.

The first point should be to raise the difference between income from wage-labour (ie capitalist employment) and income from self-employment, cooperative employment, feudal employment, merchantile self-employment and slave employment. For newbies, the different forms of employment can be related to different forms of exploitation.

This also refutes the claim from some that:

To me, capitalism is merely the freedom to trade.

Merchantilism, pre-capitalist farming, small businesses, cottage industry’s are all forms of freedom to trade. They are generally wiped-out by capitalism – often violently or corruptly.

Once capitalism is established, those capitalists who are able to restrict others freedom to trade end up making the largest profits.

Trying to camouflage capitalism as “freedom to trade” is more propaganda or poetry than hard-headed analysis.

353

mattski 12.23.14 at 12:18 am

352

Actually, where I live small business, local organic agriculture, cottage industry of various sorts is alive and well.

We don’t need Marx to assess the perils to democracy which led to the phrase, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

354

J Thomas 12.23.14 at 12:26 am

I worked with a food co-op for some years. Here’s what happened.

It was a little store that sold lots of specialty items that the big grocery stores wouldn’t touch. Lots of expensive specialty cheeses, like you can buy today in grocery stores. Lots of special grains and nuts and dried fruits, in bins that you could shovel or pour from, like you can find today in grocery stores. International foods like the things that today you can find in the international aisles in grocery stores. Special herbs, which the grocery stores mostly haven’t taken up yet.

People who joined the co-op got invited to work there. They could work 3 hours a month and get a 5 percent discount, and at 12 hours a month they’d get a 30% discount. The work involved lots of cleaning, and lots of measuring. We’d take 50 pound bags of flour and break them down into 10 pound bags and 5 pound bags and 2 pound bags. Twenty pound blocks of cheese got cut into 5 pound and 2 pound and 1 pound chunks. That sort of thing.And we’d weigh things and price them.

People who learned the system and kept at it graduated to being managers. Managers had a 3 hour shift, of course no more than 4 shifts a month. They ran the cash register and trained new workers etc. Nobody was really in charge, it worked on tradition.

My first contact with it came when my wife went to a country store and bought a lot of sassafras root cheap. She had much more than she needed, so she stopped at the co-op to give them the rest. There were two managers on duty who refused to take it. They said they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have any rules or procedures to handle it. She said it was no problem. She found a little box that wasn’t being used and wrote SASSAFRAS 10 CENTS on a piece of white paper and stuck it to the box. She put the woody roots in the box and put the box in an empty spot on a shelf. “There!” The managers looked kind of flabbergasted, they couldn’t think what to do. We left and after we were far enough away we started laughing.

Actually, there was somebody who was kind of in charge. He kept track of the money. He ordered supplies and sometimes he showed up to help put them away. He didn’t talk to the managers or anybody much, he just did some stuff that needed to be done and had friendly conversations with people about whatever they were interested in. He seemed like a nice guy.

After awhile I became a manager. I watched people. I noticed that there was a sort of life cycle. People would join the co-op and do some work. They might go on to be managers. At some point they got bored with working in the co-op, but they still bought stuff without the discount. Also they might keep money on deposit with the co-op, so they wouldn’t need to have cash when they came in. The co-op was a center for much of the offbeat stuff that happened in that city, and a lot of people were fond for it even if they weren’t interested in jasmine rice or steel-cut oats or wasabi or the other foods you couldn’t get anywhere else.

I started seeing the nice guy around every now and then. He had married rich, and he ran the co-op as a sort of hobby. Sometimes when it was low on money some of his rich friends would donate so he could keep doing it.

It turned out there was an organizing structure. There was a Board of Directors which met once a month. They didn’t seem to do anything anybody noticed. And once a year there was a general meeting. It was a nice party.

But then we started getting some politics. Maybe I had just started out during a multi-year lull. This time it heated up fast. There were rumors that the nice guy had done somethng wrong. There was talk about making the co-op into a real economic force, a force against capitalism. And the nice guy looked the situation over, and just walked away. His hobby had turned into something he didn’t want to do.

I got invited to be on the Board of Directors, the BOD. There was no election, people who were on it invited me to come to meetings so I did. My father told me I was stupid, if the company failed I could be sued for every cent I owned. But I didn’t own much, and also I hadn’t signed anything. There was no piece of paper anywhere that said I was on the BOD, it was all word of mouth. The BOD argued about things a little but didn’t do much. We did everything by consensus and if somebody had had an idea what to do there probably wouldn’t have been a consensus in favor.

But it was somewhat worrying. Our tax ID had once belonged to another co-op. When that co-op split, both co-ops kept the tax ID. Now they were both gone and we had it. The co-op did not seem to be incorporated, or have any legal existence besides the tax ID.

The co-op started having money problems. We didn’t have rich friends to bail us out. It turned out this wasn’t as serious as it looked. If we couldn’t pay our suppliers, they would stop giving us food with payment due in 90 days and start demanding payment immediately. After 3-6 months they would write off their loss and give us credit again. And various musicians etc started having benefits for the co-op. They’d have big parties and people had fun.

But it was obvious that we needed to replace the guy who did the ordering etc. Nobody quite knew what to do because the nice guy hadn’t trained anybody to do his job. We decided to hire a manager. I suggested that we should get two managers who would both do all the work so that we would have a backup when somebody quit again. But once they were hired they immediately split the work into two domains and both were careful not to interfere in the other’s business.

There were five applicants for the job. We interviewed each of them while the others watched, because we wanted to be open and transparent. Whenever a BOD member offered a criticism or a concern about a candidate, all the remaining candidates paid close attention and tailored their answers to handle that. Perhaps it was a coincidence that we hired the last two candidates. But then they were both BOD members who chose to go last. Anyway, the pay was mostly in discounts. They got to buy co-op food at cost.

One of the new general managers was cheerful and energetic, and good at dealing with a variety of emotional people. The other was timid and didn’t want to do anything unless she was sure everybody approved. She had been one of the managers who was scared of the sassafras. The business started functioning better. There were a few bumps. There was a shortage of oats all over, and a man stopped by the co-op and bought 200 pounds of oats still in the 100 pound bags, to feed his horses, and we didn’t have any until the next shipment. A couple of BOD members got into a controversy about the best way to build dispensers for grains etc. They argued back and forth and finally we told them to each build a prototype and we’d test them after they were finished. They didn’t think to ask for money for building supplies for their prototypes, and they never announced that their prototypes were ready. I thought maybe they just wanted to argue.

And there was the day that we changed the locks. The new GM thought there were too many keys in circulation. He got the locks changed. The day he did that, somebody distributed new keys to all the managers, and made copies for an unknown number of other people. I’d never seen the cheerful general manager look so angry, before or since. I remember that the homeopathic “doctor” who rented an office upstairs said that having the co-op downstairs was like money in the bank.

We got our specialty cheese from a woman whose brother ran a dairy in Wisconsin. He shipped her cheese and she sold it to fancy restaurants, and she sold us the surplus. We could never be sure just how much she would have.

A lawyer donated his time to make articles of incorporation for the co-op. He was careful not to limit its role, we could sell food, be an educational institution, make movies, etc. We could basicly do anything that was good for people. I was afraid to ask him whether he filed the papers, but since we never heard from state or federal government, after awhile I figured he didn’t.

A movement had been rising all along, but now it got more serious. Some of the members thought that every co-op member should be required to work. Just 3 hours, just once a month. We’d feel more of a sense of togetherness if everybody worked. And why should the lazy members mooch off the hard work the rest of us did? I was appalled. Those lazy members — about 90% of them — were the only ones who paid full price. We needed them so we could pay the rent. Assuming they didn’t quit, what would we want done that would take 5 times as many hours as we worked now? They said there was always work to do and we’d have no trouble finding work for them.

Each year the movement got stronger. We didn’t have ID cards, partly because if we did they would want to use them to mark work history. The people who came to the annual meeting tended to be people who worked at the co-op and wanted everybody to work. The people who didn’t want to work at the co-op tended not to come to the annual meeting. And with the charged arguments the annual meetings got less like parties, too.

I made an effort to figure out how much the co-op owed. We had about 3700 members who each had a $5 deposit. We had about $3000 additional that members had deposited with the co-op mainly because they liked it. It hadn’t been a problem because mostly nobody cared. But if those people quit and took their money with them, we’d have trouble paying the rent.

Eventually the BOD reached a compromise. We would have ID cards but they must not be used to record work history. The next newsletter announced that we would have ID cards and they would be used to record work history, if you hadn’t worked in the last month you couldn’t buy from the co-op.

The next month a lot of people came by to get their deposits back. The nicer ones took their deposits in food rather than cash. The second month we couldn’t pay the rent or the suppliers. It was over. One of the managers took the remaining food to a lesbian convenience store and said the co-op members were welcome to buy there and work there. I didn’t hear that anybody did.

I think that particular co-op could have functioned until the regular grocery chains cut too much into their product line, except for the politics. It was never efficient but it filled a need that nobody else bothered with. But a minority, who were a majority of the most active members, got all moralistic and thought more about what the other members owed the co-op instead of what the co-op could do to serve the community. So it fell apart.

355

engels 12.23.14 at 1:59 am

Thanks, J.

356

William Timberman 12.23.14 at 2:29 am

Bruce Wilder @ 350

If I’m not mistaken, your last paragraph describes being young, and very poetically, too. But like Lewis Carroll’s Father William, I’m old, so I can probably afford a carefully considered paralysis of the will. I haven’t always been old mind you, and if I remember correctly, when I was young I didn’t really give a rat’s ass how it was all gonna turn out, so long as I got a piece of it en passant. The point to you, I think….

As to whether you’re more Hegelian than jch, I’d say you were more colloquially Hegelian, but as you imply in the case of Marx, writing in English rather than German may be what does that particular trick….

357

Chris Warren 12.23.14 at 2:35 am

Niche not-for-profits enterprises catering to different relatively small market segments can survive in the shadows of capitalism. Some will fail for a mixture of reasons.

Food coops and farmers/rural coops and credit unions are sprinkled everywhere throughout capitalism.

They did not cause the global financial crisis of capitalism.

358

LFC 12.23.14 at 2:54 am

Chris Warren @352

Mercantilism, pre-capitalist farming, small businesses, cottage industry’s are … generally wiped-out by capitalism – often violently or corruptly.

And yet Marx himself, living in Victorian London in often rather straitened circumstances, was probably often in debt himself to the corner butcher, baker or tobaccanist — i.e., small businesses. (Nor did the industrial revolution completely wipe out artisans and craftsmen, though I think it largely did.) But my impression, which could be wrong, is that Marx did not have an enormous amt to say about groups other than ‘pure’ proletarians and ‘pure’ capitalists. He did mention other classes of course, incl. the lumpenproletariat, and there is some discussion of the peasants (e.g. the famous reference to “potatoes in a sack”), but how well are they fitted into his worldview or ‘system’? Which I suppose is another way of asking about possible tensions between Marx the sociologist or social observer and Marx the (critical) political economist. I tried to raise this general question way upthread, but no one picked up on it (unless I missed something, which is quite possible, as the latter part of the thread I haven’t been following esp. closely).

359

bob mcmanus 12.23.14 at 3:12 am

358: The “putting-out” system and female household servants were both very important to Marx’s economics. I can’t point to the passages in Marx, but will recommend David Harvey’s brilliant book on 2nd Empire Paris which covers both well.

360

bob mcmanus 12.23.14 at 3:24 am

358: Actually I remember that question, spent quite a while thinking about it and visited Marxist.org looking for a clear answer. I even pasted some quotes in the comment box before giving up.

Tentative: Capital is stuff bought to sell. Capital, by definition, is in motion. Gold coins under the bed are not capital. The craftsman’s hammer, the home weaver’s loom, the butcher’s shop are not Capital.

Does this mean the WalMart physical store (as opposed to inventory) or the machinery and the building of a factory are not Capital? Not sure.

361

mattski 12.23.14 at 3:34 am

Niche not-for-profits enterprises catering to different relatively small market segments can survive in the shadows of capitalism. Some will fail for a mixture of reasons.

“Not-for-profits”? What are you talking about? There is PLENTY of for-profit small business in the US.

The financial crisis–glad you mentioned it–could have been avoided through legislation and regulation within the confines of “capitalism.” I suppose if you’re a hard-core ideologue this is a controversial statement…

362

Anarcissie 12.23.14 at 3:39 am

Bruce Wilder 12.22.14 at 10:48 pm @ 350 — Given free rein, at a certain point skepticism, uncertainty, and doubt will begin to act upon and destroy themselves. When things can be partially known, partially reasoned out, when seemingly reliable evidence can be gathered, one learns and reasons. When nothing can be known or reasoned out, only faith and action are left.

363

Rich Puchalsky 12.23.14 at 3:58 am

“I worked with a food co-op for some years. Here’s what happened.”

I’ve worked for a number of co-ops too. Based on my experience, there are two general rules: #1, unless there are fairly serious controls on the money, someone will steal the money; #2, if meetings aren’t mostly about operational details, internal politics will destroy the organization. I generally think that the main advantage that ordinary businesses have is that they have a fairly toxic hierarchy built in: internal politics doesn’t get out of control, and the theft of resources can be done by people at the top who have some motivation to preserve the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s possible to have long-lasting co-ops that don’t fall because of either of these two problems and also don’t have the hierarchy, but it takes luck or serious design effort that ordinary businesses don’t confront.

364

Tyrone Slothrop 12.23.14 at 5:12 am

Theory breaking upon the shores of praxis—e’er a melancholy sound in the dim eventide of fructified life…

365

Chris Warren 12.23.14 at 6:27 am

LFC 12.23.14 at 2:54 am

You have to separate sociological aspects from political economic aspects when looking at some parts of Marx’s analysis.

There is a cause and effect dynamic between the mode of production and subjective consciousness, ideology, and sociology. Alienation (and crises) tempers or exaggerates the interaction(s).

This is not an area “newbie’s” would normally examine.

366

Ze Kraggash 12.23.14 at 12:21 pm

It doesn’t seem too terrible that coops collapse from politics or theft. Let them. As long as new ones keep getting organized, and especially if the new ones benefit from experiences of unsuccessful ones.

367

J Thomas 12.23.14 at 1:10 pm

#363 Rich Puchalsky

I’ve worked for a number of co-ops too. Based on my experience, there are two general rules: #1, unless there are fairly serious controls on the money, someone will steal the money; #2, if meetings aren’t mostly about operational details, internal politics will destroy the organization.

I only had a lot of experience with that one. Mostly nobody stole the money, unless the GM who did the ordering arranged kickbacks with the suppliers. They sent us printed price lists but maybe they sent us the price lists they sent to businesses that arranged kickbacks. One time a 16-year-old became a manager. He was real enthusiastic. His parents were divorced and he had bounced back and forth between them, whenever he couldn’t get along well enough with one of them then he’d switch. He finally ran away from home entirely, stealing one day’s co-op income to finance the move. It was around $400. I had some further contact with him since I knew his mother. He had gotten a job at a restaurant while he was at home, and they gradually gave him more responsibility like they were training him for the profession. He went to a new city and got a restaurant job, he made friends with a chef and got a kitchen job, he worked under a variety of chefs and eventually became a sous chef and then the main chef for a fancy restaurant. When he left town with the money, people agreed that he should not have been given so much responsibility.

Mostly the money wasn’t stolen. But a certain amount of food probably disappeared. We were just starting to set up an inventory system when it collapsed.

It’s possible to have long-lasting co-ops that don’t fall because of either of these two problems and also don’t have the hierarchy, but it takes luck or serious design effort that ordinary businesses don’t confront.

It was hard for us to change procedures because a lot of people already knew how to do things and they taught new people. Nowadays you could maybe describe procedures on a wiki or something, and the problem would only be that people who already knew how wouldn’t read the wiki. When we changed things, first we got a sort of consensus that something needed to be done, and then we got eager volunteers to do it, and then we had a party. It worked within some limitations. When people were ready to do things, they did them eagerly. When they wanted to have ID cards they had the cards ready and mailed in a week after they got permission, and had the system to check IDs and make sure that people worked within another week. When they didn’t much want to do something it mostly never got done.

Once there was a problem with rats. The rats particularly liked cashews and could easily damage 20 $5 bags of them in a night. A lot of members did not want poisons to kill the rats partly because they objected to poison in general and partly because the rats deserved to live. Perhaps we could have ultrasonic devices that would drive the rats away? We looked at ways to seal up all the food at night so the rats couldn’t get it. We borrowed a humane trap that would catch rats live. Of course the second rat would learn not to go in it, rats are smart. But the first rat to get trapped gnawed his way out through the metal hardware cloth. One of the most prestigious members put out humane sticky traps that would catch rats but not kill them. After he had humanely caught some, he had no way to release the rats, and no good place to release them to. So he put the traps upside down on the parking lot and ran over them with a car. He got a whole lot of criticism for that. Finally the landlord quietly got the rats exterminated without announcing it to be criticized for.

I think a lot of my co-op’s problems came because the members tended to have very strong opinions about the right way to do things.Some of them were vegetarians, some PETA, some middle-aged hippies, etc. A lot of them were involved with a co-op in the first place because of their politics. If co-ops were more mainstream, those problems might be much less. But there could be a lot more apathy too. And more theft.

368

Plume 12.23.14 at 1:35 pm

mattski 12.22.14 at 10:12 pm @346

Plume is indeed a fanatic, but he means well.

I see you’ve decided to take the low road with Brett, and end the truce.

Fanaticism. It’s the desperate clinging to beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I provide supporting links in these posts that demonstrate the Bretts of this world are fanatics:

#76, #132, #171, #172, #176, #178, #199, #227, #245, #288, #291, #315

I was hoping you’d respond to them and defend your support for capitalism. I knew Brett wouldn’t. It would just burst the bubble he’s living in — the rah rah, Go Team USA!! bubble. It’s telling as well that you never questioned his ridiculous claims, nor were you critical of them, even though they read like something out of a Bill O’Reilly home-school primer. But that’s between you and Brett, of course.

369

Plume 12.23.14 at 1:47 pm

Chris Warren,

Thanks for your contributions. I tried to make the same points regarding how capitalism is fundamentally different from previous forms of commerce, trade and production modes.

Again, I think one of the main reasons people get so irrationally upset when capitalism itself is criticized — as opposed to liberals dancing around the 800 pound gorilla in the room — is that they don’t know that. They don’t understand how unique it is, or what it actually entails. So they think a serious critique of capitalism is a shot at commerce and trade itself — or, if they’re diehard cheerleaders, Mom and Apple Pie.

The American ruling class did an amazingly effective job with more than a century of increasingly sophisticated propaganda, promoting the idea that capitalism itself is synonymous (and virtually interchangeable) with America and democracy. This, even though it’s the antithesis of democracy, and it’s only ever benefited a tiny portion of the American people.

This is nothing less than a tragedy.

370

engels 12.23.14 at 2:20 pm

The inference isn’t that co-ops collapse, it is that co-ops in capitalist societies collapse.

371

Plume 12.23.14 at 2:29 pm

Engels @370,

Very true. The environment is not a healthy one for them. They are at major disadvantage in the capitalist system. So is any business which conducts fair trade, pays fair wages, or seeks to make high quality products, via serious artisanship and craft, etc. etc.

Capitalism produces mass-produced crap, with very cheap labor, so it can keep prices down. It has to keep prices down because so many people are in the “cheap labor” category, and can’t afford decent things. The so-called “democratization of consumption” is a mirage. Rich people get to buy high quality, well-crafted, durable items. The rest of us have to settle for mass-produced garbage, which we must replace over and over and over again — which is the entire point. Our landfills become mountains as a result. Our seas are filled with trillions of pieces of (observable) plastic waste.

Marxian critiques are needed now more than ever before. Green Left critiques even more so.

372

Plume 12.23.14 at 2:31 pm

Sorry, messed up on the link:

Trillions of Plastic Pieces in Arctic Ice

373

LFC 12.23.14 at 2:42 pm

b. mcmanus 359:
The “putting-out” system and female household servants were both very important to Marx’s economics. I can’t point to the passages in Marx, but will recommend David Harvey’s brilliant book on 2nd Empire Paris which covers both well.

Thank you for the Harvey recommendation.

374

Plume 12.23.14 at 2:56 pm

LFC,

David Harvey is excellent. I’d recommend his The Enigma of Capital as well. And his website. He has an online Teaching Capital course.

This review by Benjamin Kunkel is excellent in its own right, and goes beyond Harvey’s work, etc.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n03/benjamin-kunkel/how-much-is-too-much

375

mattski 12.23.14 at 3:00 pm

364

And time has told me
Not to ask for more
Someday our ocean
Will find its shore.

376

Harold 12.23.14 at 3:05 pm

I met a man who spent his life studying co-ops and he said that the problem was that when they made a profit, which happened quite often, as a matter of fact, they tended to be taken over by profit-making entities. EMS, as I recall, a camping buying co-op, as I remember (it was over 10 years ago) was an example of a financially successful co-op that became a corporation.

There are examples of farmers’ cooperatives in Northern Italy that have existed since the Middle Ages.

377

Plume 12.23.14 at 3:10 pm

Harold,

Have you heard of the Marcora Law?

Richard D. Wolff describes it here, and I wish we had it in America:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/12/13/a-qa-with-richard-wolff/

Here is a specific example of a policy. In 1985, the Italian parliament passed the Marcora Law. Still on Italy’s lawbooks today, this law provides unemployed Italians with an alternative to receiving the weekly dole much like their US counterparts. That alternative is to obtain a lump sum of all their weekly unemployment payments if (a) a minimum number of other unemployed join them in making the same request, and (b) all their lump sums are pooled to serve as start-up capital for a cooperative business in which they all participate as equals. This creative approach to unemployment is part of the reason why cooperative enterprises are so much more a part of Italy’s economy than that of the US. Capitalist business groups in Italy have tried but so far failed to repeal the Marcora Law.

378

Anarcissie 12.23.14 at 3:20 pm

I think the main problem with cooperatives in a capitalist environment is that they do not produce enough scarcity and alienation to keep up. It is not that people desire these things, but they do make people work harder and produce surpluses. The surpluses can then be appropriated by the leadership / management / ruling class and used to expand the business and produce yet more scarcity and alienation.

379

Rich Puchalsky 12.23.14 at 3:20 pm

“The inference isn’t that co-ops collapse, it is that co-ops in capitalist societies collapse.”

If you’re a Marxist, then I guess that’s the pre-ordained conclusion, yes. As in Plume’s #371, I can refer to organizational problems and this will be heard as “They are at a major disadvantage in the capitalist system. So is any business which conducts fair trade, pays fair wages, or seeks to make high quality products, via serious artisanship and craft, etc. etc.” in other words what I write won’t actually be heard at all except insofar as it fits your predetermined belief system.

What I observe is different. I see that some capitalist countries have cultures that let co-ops succeed more of the time: for instance, the Mondragon federation of worker co-ops is the tenth largest corporation in Spain by some measures. I don’t see any particular success with the United Steel Workers attempt to bring the Mondragon model to the U.S. I don’t think that this is a matter of capitalism per se: Spanish workers have cultural resources for co-op formation that American workers don’t, and the reasons for this are much more about the historical differences between the two countries than because of capitalist propaganda itself.

If you want to talk about the problems of co-ops within global capitalism, you’re probably better off talking about not co-op formation and dissolution but about what happens to the very largest scale ones, such as with the Fagor bankruptcy.

380

mattski 12.23.14 at 3:37 pm

Plume,

I was hoping you’d … defend your support for capitalism.

We’ve been over this countless times. It’s not that I support “capitalism” (whatever the fuck that means to people who use the word) but rather that I think you are really just pushing words around in a mostly useless way.

I’m saying, and I’ve said it many times before, there isn’t anything immoral about people being free to conduct trade. On the contrary, it would be immoral and ridiculous for the community to tell an individual that he/she is NOT free to engage in commerce.

So, while I’m frustrated by the limitations of language and the tendency for people to get seduced by words & ideas, at the same time I’ll reiterate by belief that to the extent these words have meaning, ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ are perfectly compatible.

Example: What happens when private companies compete for employees?

381

Plume 12.23.14 at 3:41 pm

Rich @379,

“The inference isn’t that co-ops collapse, it is that co-ops in capitalist societies collapse.”

If you’re a Marxist, then I guess that’s the pre-ordained conclusion, yes. As in Plume’s #371, I can refer to organizational problems and this will be heard as “They are at a major disadvantage in the capitalist system. So is any business which conducts fair trade, pays fair wages, or seeks to make high quality products, via serious artisanship and craft, etc. etc.” in other words what I write won’t actually be heard at all except insofar as it fits your predetermined belief system.

Actually, it’s your “pre-ordained view” that capitalism doesn’t have that impact. You observe things from a far more narrow POV than I do. I grew up in the sea of capitalism, heard all the rah rah propaganda, read the liberal and conservative cheerleading for capitalism, imbibed its media . . . . and then broke free from from it.

I still know those views as well, but I’ve added other perspectives. I’ve added leftist, critical viewpoints. I’ve broadened my perspective.

If anyone has a “pre-ordained” viewpoint, it’s the people who never included perspectives critical of the capitalist system. Not those of us who know the pro-capitalist and the anti-capitalist viewpoints.

382

mattski 12.23.14 at 3:48 pm

More “capitalist” atrocities.

383

Rich Puchalsky 12.23.14 at 3:53 pm

Plume: “I still know those views as well, but I’ve added other perspectives. I’ve added leftist, critical viewpoints. I’ve broadened my perspective.”

Yes, this is familiar Marxism too. Only Marxist viewpoints are “leftist, critical viewpoints.” Your perspective is so broad that you think that of course anyone who “includes perspectives critical of the capitalist system” must necessarily come to the same conclusions as you do.

I’m an anarchist, and I don’t see anything worthwhile in your 19th century holy text or in the blinkered certainty of its devotees.

384

engels 12.23.14 at 3:54 pm

there isn’t anything immoral about people being free to conduct trade

There isn’t anything immoral about people trading stuff they own.

to the extent these words have meaning, ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ are perfectly compatible

socialism ˈsəʊʃəlɪz(ə)m/ noun noun: socialism a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

capitalism ˈkapɪt(É™)lɪz(É™)m/ noun noun: capitalism an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

Not really seeing this…

385

Plume 12.23.14 at 4:01 pm

Mattski @380,

I’m saying, and I’ve said it many times before, there isn’t anything immoral about people being free to conduct trade. On the contrary, it would be immoral and ridiculous for the community to tell an individual that he/she is NOT free to engage in commerce.

Not sure why you’re still not getting this. Capitalism is unique. It has a unique structure and logic all its own. It is unlike any other previous economic system — as Chris Warren also showed. Being an anticapitalist doesn’t mean one is against commerce or trade. It means they are against capitalist commerce and trade. And I’ve explained the immorality several times, and provided all kinds of links to back that up. Others have as well.

As for the community saying you can’t do X, Y and Z. It does that now, under our liberal, democratic system. People can’t enslave their fellow humans anymore. We all recognize this is “immoral” at the very least. The community tells individuals right now that they can’t conduct “commerce” of that nature. Individual business owners can’t hire kids, or force 80 hour weeks, or discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, etc. They must pay a certain minimum wage. They must adhere to OSHA regulations, and EPA regulations, and overtime regulations, etc. etc.

Those came about in reaction to capitalism’s naturally occurring exploitation of workers. Those came about through centuries of activism and protest. They all mean “the community is telling individual business owners what they can and can not do.”

Leftist proposals go further. They attack the root causes of exploitation. They attack economic apartheid. They seek an end to the conditions that require liberal democracies to regulate and mitigate for capitalism’s destructive effects in the first place.

The thing that really separates us is this: Leftists realize that keeping a system in place that requires so many checks and balances is beyond foolish. We realize that it’s far more logical, rational and humane to start with a system that doesn’t require all of those checks and balances and mitigation to begin with.

386

engels 12.23.14 at 4:01 pm

I’m an anarchist, and I don’t see anything worthwhile in your 19th century holy text or in the blinkered certainty of its devotees.

Any anarchist who doesn’t see ‘anything worthwhile’ in Marx’s writings is not a very serious anarchist imho.

387

Plume 12.23.14 at 4:09 pm

Rich @383,

Yes, this is familiar Marxism too. Only Marxist viewpoints are “leftist, critical viewpoints.” Your perspective is so broad that you think that of course anyone who “includes perspectives critical of the capitalist system” must necessarily come to the same conclusions as you do.

I have never said the above. Nor have I even remotely hinted the above. You’re projecting, big time.

My own leftism is quite eclectic, as mentioned several times, and includes perspectives that are harshly critical of Marx. They include libertarian socialists, for example, and the examples of anarchist Spain, along with diverse perspectives on the Marx/Proudhon battles. I have left-anarchist leanings as well, as should be apparent from the links I’ve provided and the proposals I’ve made. You’re assuming far too much after hearing “Marxist” mentioned.

388

mattski 12.23.14 at 4:16 pm

384

Try this.

389

Plume 12.23.14 at 4:31 pm

Mattski @388,

Good article. And it argues against everything that the two Bretts have tried to peddle here. It also supports leftist critiques already made. Polyani was himself a leftist.

390

mattski 12.23.14 at 4:51 pm

Plume,

I don’t put Brett Dunbar in the same camp with Brett Bellmore. I think, though I could be wrong, BD is fairly compatible with my perspective. For instance, I doubt BD would quibble with this, from my link at 388:

Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions.

391

Plume 12.23.14 at 5:17 pm

Mattski,

If you reread 264, 280, 345, 347, I think you might change your mind. Both Bretts talk as if capitalism is completely innocent, awesomely virtuous, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound while it saves the earth, ends slavery, makes all humans equal, etc. etc. And they both brought up that nonsense of “a pile of skulls.” That should be a big old “red flag.”

As for your quote. I’d like to read his response. Given his pretty obvious “market fundamentalist” approach, I would bet he’d bash the article and pretty much all of Polyani’s writings.

But I’ll happily admit I’m wrong if he doesn’t.

392

Rich Puchalsky 12.23.14 at 5:25 pm

engels: “Any anarchist who doesn’t see ‘anything worthwhile’ in Marx’s writings is not a very serious anarchist imho.”

I’m glad that you decided to argue my case against Plume’s. The best proofs are these kind of reflexive ones.

393

Plume 12.23.14 at 5:36 pm

Rich @392,

What is your case against mine, other than sheer projection? If you’re a left-anarchist, we share many things in common. And I’ve often stated that I hold no text, of any kind, anywhere, sacred, and my own views are very eclectic and include critical stances on Marx.

What, exactly, specifically, is your beef?

394

engels 12.23.14 at 5:38 pm

Mattski, yeah, you can have a mixed economy (some industries nationalised, some privately owned) like today’s industrialised countries. If you want you can call those capitalist economies with socialist elements but they aren’t ‘socialist’ because even where industries are state-owned they are not under the community’s democratic control. Anyway, it doesn’t mean there’s no clear meaning to the term ‘capitalism’, or ‘socialism’, or that the two are not opposed, anymore than the existence of zebras means there’s no clear meaning to the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’.

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mattski 12.23.14 at 5:50 pm

Anyway, it doesn’t mean there’s no clear meaning to the term ‘capitalism’, or ‘socialism’, or that the two are not opposed, anymore than the existence of zebras means there’s no clear meaning to the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’.

I guess that’s a matter of opinion. Given that the gist of Henry’s interview on Polanyi is that neither pure capitalism nor pure socialism has ever been found or is likely to be found.

To me, “there isn’t any such thing as a free market” means capitalism and socialism are perfectly compatible, indeed, necessary aspects of functioning economy.

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Bruce Wilder 12.23.14 at 5:55 pm

A zebra can be a definite thing in the world, a creature of nature, classifiable in a well-understood system of types that reflects its presumed lineage in the tree of life. “Capitalism” or “socialism” find no definite correspondence among the creations of human sociability; they belong to no system of classification, well-understood and universally accepted.

It is not clear in the discussion to this point that the advocates of “socialism” will even admit that a real or true socialist state has ever existed, for fear that their precious will be tagged with some crime. I trust the existence of zebras is not in dispute.

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engels 12.23.14 at 6:05 pm

advocates of “socialism” will [not] even admit that a real or true socialist state has ever existed, for fear that their precious will be tagged with some crime

Oh gosh it’s the ‘if I believe that X can come about in the future but has never existed up till now, then I must be a crazy person’. Great argument, especially when combined with armchair psychoanalysis ‘ for fear that…’ Keep ’em coming.

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Bruce Wilder 12.23.14 at 6:19 pm

Anarcissie @ 378

Yes, I think that’s essentially correct.

If I were to try to identify the distinctive economic aspects of organizing economic production and distribution around for-profit, private business, I think I would focus on the use of managerial hierarchy, economic rents and the separation of ownership and control.

Adam Smith’s classical analysis would not have taken the shape it did, except for the historic accidents, which made landlords and farmers in England often different people. It is that separation of ownership from control that brings the concept of economic rent to the fore.

That the return to capital takes the form of an economic rent — more properly termed, a quasi-rent — took a while to get clear, and is still often overlooked, but that economic rent is a residual income is in Smith, I think.

Does anyone teach Marx’s doctrine of alienation as a core aspect of his theory?

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engels 12.23.14 at 6:19 pm

To me, “there isn’t any such thing as a free market” means capitalism and socialism are perfectly compatible

No, it means that real existing capitalism bears little resemblance to the fantasies promulgated by some of its ideological defenders.

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Plume 12.23.14 at 6:21 pm

Bruce @397,

It is not clear in the discussion to this point that the advocates of “socialism” will even admit that a real or true socialist state has ever existed, for fear that their precious will be tagged with some crime. I trust the existence of zebras is not in dispute.

It’s not a fear that actual socialism will be tagged with some crime. It’s the insistence that a duck not be called a zebra, if it is, in fact, a duck.

There are many aspects to socialist theory, but the two core tenets are these:

1. Actual democracy, including the economy.
2. The people, not political parties, dictators, juntas or private interests, own the means of production.

Given the fact — the fact — that no nation state in modern history has ever come remotely close to having those either of those two core tenets in place, it is more than fair to insist that socialism has never been tried.

The other reason for the insistence upon accurate terms is to completely differentiate oneself from any previous regimes. Why on earth should a socialist who is 100% opposed to, say, the Soviet system, just accept the notion that it was “socialist”? Why would a socialist who proposes radical alternatives to both the Soviet system and the capitalist system accept the capitalist’s frame that if one is opposed to capitalism, they must support the old USSR or China, etc.?

Sorry, I don’t accept your frame, Bruce. It’s bogus. As are you zebras.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.14 at 6:27 pm

“What, exactly, specifically, is your beef?”

There’s a very significant disjunction between what you say you believe and how you actually write. As with #381, you’ll start saying that people you disagree with have a narrow perspective and boasting about your own broader perspective without troubling yourself to figure out what the person you disagree with is actually saying. Or you’ll “agree” but only so that you can supply a simplistic, dumbed-down and ideologic version of what someone wrote. These aren’t your personal faults: in my observation they are typical faults of people who call themselves Marxists (yes, #notallmarxists). The kind of arrogance in engels’ #386 is just another example. Imagine if I said that you weren’t a serious Marxist because you didn’t value thew writings of my favorite guru.

I think that Marxism has been a destructive influence on the left, and has led directly to the weakened state that the left is in. Marxists had control of a sizable part of the world population for many decades and succeeded only in providing horrible examples and failures that they never want to own up to, including the direct destruction of other leftist strands. I don’t think that anyone on the left should continue to treat Marxists as if they have some special knowledge or some special kind of analysis that is always useful although it always fails.

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Plume 12.23.14 at 6:29 pm

As are your zebras.

Alienation is a tremendous insight coming from Marx, and it’s tied directly to the capitalist mode of production. The worker is divorced from his or her work, for many reasons, but chiefly because the fruits of their labor are taken from them by the capitalist — appropriated by the capitalist. What he or she makes is not their own.

They are wage slaves. Capitalism is a natural evolution from slavery, which also involves the appropriation of surplus value and unpaid labor. Capitalism in America, as already demonstrated above, helped to prolong slavery here, as well.

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js. 12.23.14 at 6:39 pm

Does anyone teach Marx’s doctrine of alienation as a core aspect of his theory?

At least in my experience in philosophy departments, “Alienated Labor” (or “Estranged Labor”) is the most commonly taught Marx text in intro-ish courses. On the other hand, I think the fashion is to focus more on Grundrisse/Capital Vol. 1 at more advanced levels. Tho at least if you ask me, there’s plenty about alienation in Grundrisse.

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engels 12.23.14 at 6:39 pm

The kind of arrogance in engels’ #386 is just another example. Imagine if I said that you weren’t a serious Marxist because you didn’t value thew writings of my favorite guru.

Just of interest, who is your favourite guru for understanding dynamics of capitalism from a radical left perspective, who is entirely unburdened with influences or intellectual debts to Marx or the Marxist tradition?

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mattski 12.23.14 at 6:40 pm

engels 399

No, it means that real existing capitalism bears little resemblance to the fantasies promulgated by some of its ideological defenders.

What about the fantasies of socialisms believers? Let’s see your critique of that.

Do you allow that modern capitalist nations often have socialized health care? Ye gads, how did that happen?!

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Plume 12.23.14 at 6:45 pm

Rich @401,

You still haven’t tried to be specific. What you’re describing is a rather generalized, vague “feeling” about my writings, and, ironically, it applies to your own — at least from my point of view, and especially the first couple of sentences.

As for what “Marxists” have done. Those who created systems of oppression need to be held accountable — regardless of schools of thought. If you are going to say that anyone who includes this or that thinker in their intellectual life should be ignored simply because what others have done in their names . . . . then you will have to ignore the vast majority of the earth, because most people hold beliefs that have been abused and used to create systems of oppression, with capitalism having far more blood on its hands than Marxism. Christianity does as well. And it’s not close.

To me, a far more productive way to deal with it is to accept people in the here and now for themselves, hold them accountable for their own actions, not deeds they condemn and were wrought before they were born. Life is a pretty tough trip as it is.

Accusing people in 2014 of being complicit somehow in the actions of previous centuries not only defies the laws of physics, it also serves no purpose. If, however, they actually support systems of oppression right now, that’s a different story. But I think it’s more than fair to go on a case by case basis, instead of painting all “Marxists” with the same brush.

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engels 12.23.14 at 6:47 pm

Mattski, please see my previous replies to you for answers to both your questions: ‘nationalised industries ≠ socialism’.

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Plume 12.23.14 at 6:52 pm

Mattski @405,

This particular thread is about teaching Marxism. It’s not about instantly trying to deflect Marx’s critique of capitalism into a critique of socialism(s). But that seems to be what you, Bruce, the Bretts and a few others want it to be.

Given that Marxism is pretty much banned in our national dialogue, and that capitalism is even more dominant than Christianity in the public sphere . . . . is it asking too much to stick with a critical stance on capitalism for just a wee bit of time? Do you have to automatically redirect that to socialism(s) instead?

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mattski 12.23.14 at 7:02 pm

:^)

Plume, at 400+ comments I think this thread is about whatever we want it to be about. But, as I’ve said previously, I don’t consider myself a defender of ‘capitalism.’

There is plenty to criticize about the state of the world in our day and age. I’m trying to say that arguing over these idealized abstractions is futile in direct proportion to how seriously the ideas are embraced.

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Plume 12.23.14 at 7:09 pm

Mattski,

Good point about the length of the thread and the way things spin out. I kinda sorta retract what I said on that matter. Kinda.

But I disagree that we’re talking abstractions. The critique on capitalism is quite specific on whys and wherefores and whens, etc. It says because the structure and logic of X is this, Y follows. Again, I’ve linked to numerous concrete effects of capitalism, with detailed descriptions of how humans, wildlife, eco-systems, etc. etc. are directly and indirectly impacted. I keep doing this, and you keep dismissing it as “abstract” or some other term.

I keep giving specific numbers, percentages, results, and you and others ignore that.

Not sure what else I can do to describe real-world cause and effect. And on that note, I’m heading out.

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mattski 12.23.14 at 7:12 pm

One last comment, Plume. Your inability to grant any beneficial effects from capitalism is a tell.

Most people would allow that, at the very least, capitalism is pretty good at producing material wealth. My links at 380 & 382 suggest there can be other, more wholesome benefits as well.

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stevenjohnson 12.23.14 at 7:29 pm

Bruce Wilder @396

Actually existing socialist states are and were rather like actually existing bourgeois states, composed of the inheritance from their previous regimes; undergoing many vicissitudes in their historical trajectories, even to retrogressions; always untimely in achieving their promises.

Or to put it another way, England under Cromwell was bourgeois in a way it wasn’t under the Stuarts, even without the annihilation of the nobility. Despite the Restoration, this basic change is why the Stuarts could be so easily overthrown. Or why later the English government could respond to the Chartists etc. with the Reform Acts. And why, despite bourgeois democracy’s promise of universal suffrage women didn’t get the vote until the twentieth century.

In short, easy moralizing from imaginary perspectives partakes of both folly and lies.

That said, although the complete abolition of classes and universal production for use are strawmen, it is nonetheless the case that there have been state regimes that have dispossessed the bourgeoisie and begun remaking society. Crude indicators of this are ” mass trade unions, nationalized property, capital controls, an independent currency, nonaligned foreign policy, state investment, a welfare state and such…” coupled with resistance to “privileged foreign investors, elites moving loot abroad, foreign control of currency, repression of trade unions, military security ties with great powers, and so forth…”

Plainly there have been this kind of actually existing socialism in the USSR, parts of Europe liberated from the Nazis by the USSR, Yugoslavia, the People’s Republic of China, PDR Korea, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Cuba. Dengist China is plainly moving backward but still is socialist. Yugoslavian guest workers in Germany asked hard questions about market socialism. And whether market socialism was causal in the specially murderous restoration of capitalism asked harder ones yet. The north of Korea has been “liberalized” for quite some time now. Between the cover of quasimonarchy, isolation under siege and an truly extraordinary propaganda campaign, it is hard to say much about the north today. Democratic Kampuchea of course has always had a shaky claim to be a socialist state.

As to crimes? We are told that everybody goes to hell without divine intervention, yet somehow we find uniquely special crimes in those “our’ government designates enemies. Things do appear to be very bad in northern Korea (as you should expect from revival of old Korean cultural traits like the exalted monarchy or the songbun system.) But, how many trouble to even remember that the north has never invaded another country, but the south invaded Vietnam?

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J Thomas 12.23.14 at 7:51 pm

#395 Mattski

To me, “there isn’t any such thing as a free market” means capitalism and socialism are perfectly compatible, indeed, necessary aspects of functioning economy.

I really don’t see that.

If we say that “capitalism” as described in theory has hardly anything to do with any real existing economies, and that “socialism” as described in theory also has hardly anything to do with any real existing economies, I guess that means that they’re compatible in the way that the Buddhist concept of hell and the Taoist concept of hell are compatible — I don’t know anybody who’s been to either place or who can reliably vouch that either place exists, so they must get along with each other.

But since neither set of theories describe reality, whyever would either of them be necessary to a functioning economy?

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Bruce Wilder 12.23.14 at 7:51 pm

engels @ 397

“Things” that exist only in a projective fantasy are not constrained by logical necessity or factual conditions — like M. C. Escher, you can draw a Penrose triangle or a Necker Cube or any number of other imaginative impossibilities. Perpetual motion machines and production without waste — these are freely available in your dream world.

It is a powerful rhetorical position to assume, if you can get others to play along. You can pronounce mumbo-jumbo and affect to pull rabbits out of hats, as Plume is inclined to do, ad nauseum.

In defense of Marx, I would say that he was very deliberately trying to produce not a dream, but a critique. A critique is a creature of the imagination, too, but it deliberately seeks out, by its method, to find the constraints of logical necessity and factual conditions. A critical method both shines a light on the object it wishes to study, and then looks for the shadow cast and what may be obscured thereby. Marx’s determination to be a philosophical Critic created tensions with Socialist Movement’s need for Marx to speak as its Prophet, and his ambition to fulfill that role, at least magisterially. His sardonic tone covers his ambivalence. Marx, as I recall, rejected elaborate definitions of “socialism” or “communism” as a form of scholasticism; the material dialectic would have to play out in historical time, socialism emerging from the development of capitalism as capitalism had emerged from the development of feudalism.

I will take no brief to apologize for actually existing capitalism. Crooked timber, I say.

415

Brett Bellmore 12.23.14 at 7:53 pm

“This particular thread is about teaching Marxism. It’s not about instantly trying to deflect Marx’s critique of capitalism into a critique of socialism(s). ”

We teach Darwin. We teach Lysenko. We teach them differently, because one is a mistake, while the other is merely incomplete. You can’t discuss how to teach Marx apart from whether Marx was *wrong*.

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engels 12.23.14 at 7:53 pm

Bruce, so your argument is that I can’t be a socialist unless socialism already exists?

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engels 12.23.14 at 7:57 pm

Genuine question Brett, what do you get out of repeating your negative opinion of Marx, over and over again, without giving any reasons, on a thread from which you’ve already been banned?

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mattski 12.23.14 at 8:29 pm

JT,

But since neither set of theories describe reality, whyever would either of them be necessary to a functioning economy?

Because the words are used in different ways. The “philosophers” usage, the “pure capitalism” is highly abstract and removed from our experience. But there are other more colloquial usages like,

“my friend Herb is an enterprising capitalist. You really should check out his burgeoning marijuana business. He’s making money hand over fist!”

Notice: in the real world Herb IS an enterprising businessman, and he’s making money hand over fist. However, if it hadn’t been for the Colorado legislature, Herb would either be a) making money illegally, b) in jail, c) not in the marijuana business, etc.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.23.14 at 8:53 pm

engels: “Just of interest, who is your favourite guru for understanding dynamics of capitalism from a radical left perspective, who is entirely unburdened with influences or intellectual debts to Marx or the Marxist tradition?”

I don’t have a guru (which is not the same thing as saying I don’t value theory). I would worry more about not having some single person who could help me understand the dynamics of capitalism if I saw any evidence that Marxists actually understood the dynamics of capitalism in any useful way.

What I see, instead, is useless Marxism — there hasn’t been an effort to do or understand anything on the left in my lifetime that Marxists haven’t tried to simplify and squeeze into their framework. Like your “Trillions of Plastic Pieces” link: there’s a lot of science that goes into finding out about that, and then environmental activism to actually change the situation, and at every stage there’s some Marxist who’s willing to tell people that it’s all about capitalism in a knee-jerk, uninformed way and try to co-opt the people actually working on the issue. Just as with famine and the unwillingness to admit that mass deaths from famine could happen in both capitalist and communist regimes that had certain characteristics, you’re not adding to knowledge, you’re decreasing it.

As for “entirely unburdened with influences or intellectual debts”, we can’t turn back history. The most intelligent thing about this in this thread was said by bob mcmanus up in #41/42. “[… ] what he got right is now taken for granted and invisible […]” No one on the left can now say “Oh, I have no influences from Marx” any more than anyone growing up in America can say “I have no influences from Christianity.” But the people who choose to call themselves Christians have to own up to e.g. Christian homophobia.

420

Bruce Wilder 12.23.14 at 8:55 pm

engels, my argument is that I’m not going to argue with a solipsism, called “socialism”.

421

engels 12.23.14 at 9:06 pm

my argument is that I’m not going to argue with a solipsism, called “socialism”

Where ‘solipsism’ = denial that ‘socialism’ was realised in the Warsaw pact states? Anyone who thinks that is not worth arguing with?

422

LFC 12.23.14 at 9:08 pm

Rich Puchalsky @383
I’m an anarchist, and I don’t see anything worthwhile in your 19th century holy text or in the blinkered certainty of its devotees.

You might be interested in the discussion of “Marx’s anarchism” (sic) in Robert C. Tucker, The Marxian Revolutionary Idea (Norton pb, 1970), pp.86ff., beginning with this sentence:

Marx’s anarchism…was grounded in a philosophical affirmation of freedom as the supreme human value and a belief that the existence of the state is incompatible with the realization of freedom.

Tucker goes on to discuss (pp.87ff.) the political and theoretical differences betw. ‘classical’ Marxism and 19th-cent. Anarchism (which he capitalizes to refer to the political mvt as distinct from the general philosophy).

423

J Thomas 12.23.14 at 9:16 pm

“my friend Herb is an enterprising capitalist. You really should check out his burgeoning marijuana business. He’s making money hand over fist!”

Herb rents his storefront. He owns a cash register, a scale, a box of baggies, and a car with a trunk where he carries a lot of marijuana. He has a sign on the window that reads “no hash is left in this building overnight” because he doesn’t trust the store’s security. When his trunk approaches empty he buys another half-bale.

What does this have to do with ownership of the means of production?

Well, but maybe it isn’t about definitions or theory. Capitalists are just people who trade. If you’re a hermit and you make everything for yourself, then you’re not a capitalist. Since hardly any of us are hermits who never trade, we’re all capitalists and capitalism is essential to our existence. There.

Also, since almost all of us occasionally do something nice for someone besides ourselves, that means we’re all socialists too.

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engels 12.23.14 at 9:17 pm

Rich, I’ll push it back a step: are there any writers on the Left who have advanced your understanding of capitalism other than Rich Puchalsky? (Also, although I can’t be arsed to scroll back but if Bob said that ‘what [Marx] got right is now taken for granted and invisible’ than I completely disagree.)

425

LFC 12.23.14 at 9:26 pm

@Plume — Kunkel link noted, thanks

@B Wilder — re “quasi-rent”: an internet friend of mine published an article last year w/ “quasi-rents” in the title, though I’m not sure whether you’ll agree w/ how he uses the term. Link to abstract:
http://mil.sagepub.com/content/41/3/491.abstract

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mattski 12.23.14 at 9:37 pm

Also, since almost all of us occasionally do something nice for someone besides ourselves, that means we’re all socialists too.

I’ll tip a glass to that, JT.

What does this have to do with ownership of the means of production?

Exactly! What do philosophers definitions have to do with the real world?

427

bianca steele 12.23.14 at 9:42 pm

Rich,

at every stage there’s some Marxist who’s willing to tell people that it’s all about capitalism in a knee-jerk, uninformed way

I’ve lost track of how many times you’ve said something indistinguishable from “it’s all about capitalism,” and sidetracked discussion “in a knee-jerk way.” So how much effort do you expect me to put into reading stuff like:

No one on the left can now say “Oh, I have no influences from Marx” any more than anyone growing up in America can say “I have no influences from Christianity.” But the people who choose to call themselves Christians have to own up to e.g. Christian homophobia.

428

J Thomas 12.23.14 at 9:53 pm

#426 mattski

“What does this have to do with ownership of the means of production?”

Exactly! What do philosophers definitions have to do with the real world?

Let’s put all that aside, then. Whether or not you believe in capitalism as a theory about how things ought to be, hardly anybody even tries to defend “crony capitalism” the way things really are. We need to fix that.

One way to fix it, in theory, is to make the government so weak that it can’t have cronies. I don’t think that’s particularly workable. But it would help if we can make the government more transparent so that people can more easily see what it does, and also make it more responsive to large numbers of people who don’t care as intensely as the few cronies care.

A second way to fix it, in theory, is to keep businesses from having so much power over the government. This is also hard to do. My immediate suggestion is to set a maximum size for businesses, both in terms of number of employees, and size of profits, and cash-flow. If a company gets too big then it must split into smaller companies, preferably smaller companies that will compete with each other and also the competitors that the single large company used to compete with.

The smaller the corporations, the less influence any one of them has and the harder it is for them to take collective action. Also more competition is good.

This is only one partial step, but I believe it would help. It is orthogonal to the left/right argument.

If your company does extra-well at competition and it outcompetes the others that make similar products, the reward should not be that the company gets to be great big and not have to worry about competitors. Instead the reward is that the people you groomed to lead the company get their chance right away. There is more room at the top. Whatever you did right, there will be two companies doing it. Pressure on the less-efficient goes up, and you have an incentive to make more valuable innovations. Your stockholders (if any) get stock in two companies both of which are likely to be successful.

We can get by without giant companies that have undue influence on the government. They cost us more than we can afford.

This is not a proposal on the right or the left. This is a forward proposal.

429

Collin Street 12.23.14 at 9:56 pm

I think that Marxism has been a destructive influence on the left, and has led directly to the weakened state that the left is in.

I’m put in mind of esperanto, which by becoming the standard auxillary language entirely destroyed any hope of auxilliary languages actually coming into play.

[esperanto has numerous well-documented problems that make it entirely unfit for use for its intended purpose in the modern world. Particularly the way it handles gender, but there are other pretty significant problems. Esperanto will not — will never — succeed, but because esperanto is so close to synonymous with auxlangs auxlangs won’t succeed either. For reasons that have nothing to do with the idea of auxlangs, but are purely contingent issues coming from the decision to adopt as their standard what is by any measure a terribly-designed language.]

430

mattski 12.23.14 at 10:03 pm

JT,

I think your proposal is fine. BUT, I also think it’s possibly over-ambitious. Maybe it’s better to take smaller, more realistic steps. For example, focus on transparency & disclosure first. This is easier for a wider audience to understand and possibly less threatening to established interests. Let business do what it does within the law, but let the citizenry SEE what business is doing particularly wrt political contributions…

431

Brett Dunbar 12.23.14 at 10:15 pm

Non-profit organisations don’t just play a marginal role in capitalist economies.

Nationwide building society has total assets of around £193.3 billion (somewhat more than the other 44 building societies combined) and is one of the major players in the UKs financial services sector.

Furniture giant IKEA with assets of about €41.979 billion is owned by the Stichting INGKA Foundation the world’s largest non-profit.

Retail group John Lewis Partnership (which is owned by its 91,000 employees and distributes profits to them as an annual bonus, usually a significant addition to the regular salary). had a turnover in financial year 2013-14 of £10.2 billion (the UK financial year runs from 6 April). John Lewis owns for example Waitrose.

432

J Thomas 12.23.14 at 10:15 pm

I think your proposal is fine. BUT, I also think it’s possibly over-ambitious. Maybe it’s better to take smaller, more realistic steps. For example, focus on transparency & disclosure first. This is easier for a wider audience to understand and possibly less threatening to established interests.

By all means let’s take smaller steps while we work on this one. It will take time for a wider audience to understand why this is needed, and there are other things we can do quicker. But we need to get the public ready for this one, too. Giant corporations that are entirely top-down with no hint of democracy internally, are going to find ways to wield a lot of power while they exist. Much better if they become smaller organizations that spend their efforts competing with each other.

I don’t want to bust up specific trusts. Require any corporation that gets too big to split up, because it’s too big.

433

Chris Warren 12.23.14 at 10:28 pm

The claim that capitalism provides material wealth is a misdirection.

Slavery and feudalism provided great material wealth.

Economic growth using science and technology provides material and non-material wealth. Capitalism is the only form of economic production that exploits normal growth by introducing the accumulation of private capital which then leads to worsening macroeconomic instability and declining rates of wages and profits when countervailing tendencies are exhausted.

Trying to promote capitalism based on the wealth of the West which was extracted from everywhere else, is naive.

Trying to promote capitalism based on the problems of Cold War deformed socialism is also naive, and does not protect our present societies from economic and ecological apocalypse with over 25% unemployment, dispossession of workers, CO2 blanketed atmosphere and collapsing banks.

Those trying to defend capitalism do not even understand what it is they are seeking to defend.

434

Plume 12.24.14 at 12:34 am

Chris @433,

Well said. And to answer Mattski’s question regarding “material wealth.”

mattski 12.23.14 at 7:12 pm #411

One last comment, Plume. Your inability to grant any beneficial effects from capitalism is a tell.

Most people would allow that, at the very least, capitalism is pretty good at producing material wealth. My links at 380 & 382 suggest there can be other, more wholesome benefits as well.

I have discussed that, in detail. I provided umpteen facts and figures regarding the maldistribution of wealth, income, resources, etc. Obviously, capitalism is awesome in its ability to produce “material wealth.” Marx was impressed by that as well. IMO, too impressed. But the key is for whom. If it is the case — and it is — that it does this only for a small portion of humanity, why would anyone consider that one of its “beneficial effects”? That is an enduring mystery.

Another key point for this thread: Those numbers, that data, those links I’ve been posting? The vast majority of that comes from mainstream liberal, centrist and nonpartisan sources. Pretty much all the inequality data comes from mainstream liberal sources. None of it comes from Marxist sources. I purposely avoided them to prevent any instant groans regarding sourcing. They come from people like Stiglitz, Krugman, Dean Baker, Piketty, NYT, Mother Jones, the World Health Organization, the World Wildlife Fund, etc. And what really has me amused is that I have so often witnessed liberals using this same exact data to debate conservatives who often say, outright, they just don’t care about inequality.

So, here, in a supposedly “liberal” website, liberals suddenly turn into market fundamentalists when faced with data they, themselves have collected — and often use — in order to defend capitalism.

Most peculiar.

435

Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 12:36 am

I’m using capitalism to mean the mostly unregulated free market economic system that developed in Britain from the 1780s. Influenced by Adam Smith, Pitt the Younger began an extensive programme of de-regulation and moving over to free trade. This entailed abolition of the monopolies, regulations subsidies and tariffs favouring diverse special interests that characterised mercantilism.
Marx had interesting things to say about economic history as he could work from actually existing institutions and historical data. How we got here and where are we are questions he could provide useful hypotheses on. Whether he was right or wrong in specific argument he makes some useful suggestions.

The bit that isn’t especially useful is when he started speculating about where are we going. As an economic historian he could predict where more backwards societies were going as that was simply following the more advanced societies, possibly taking the odd short cut.

However his speculation about where advanced societies would go next was largely worthless utopianism motivated by a dislike of the more unpleasant aspects of primitive capitalism. Attempts, very determined attempts, were made to implement that utopia. You can tell how determined by the size of the piles of skulls.

He tried to predict what might replace capitalism. So far nothing has. The combination of liberal democratic politics and a capitalist economic system has proved extremly robust and adaptable. The political system has tended to bring more and more group into the system until the franchise includes essentially the entire adult population. While economic problems have been dealt with by various taxation and spending programmes. Basically the more serious shortcomings can be dealt with directly without altering the fundamental system.

Marx expected the industrial manufacturing sector to come to dominate society with most of the population employed there, it didn’t. So his speculations assumed an economic structure that never developed as he expect the continuation of some trends that had pretty much reached their peak. In a handful of countries, notably the UK, manufacturing briefly succeeded agriculture as the largest single sector, although still employing a minority of the workforce, until replaced by the service sector which now employ the vast majority of the workforce. In most countries either agriculture still remains the largest sector (the poor countries) or it remained the largest sector until directly replaced by services which come to overwhelmingly dominate employment (middle income and rich countries).

Capitalism, democracy and human rights are fairly strongly correlated. Capitalism needs rule of law an impartial legal system and a neutral bureaucracy to function effectively. Democracy is better at delivering this. China is currently trying to implement rule of law and an impartial legal system while remaining a dictatorship I don’t think this is going to be sustainable in the long run, China might see a revolution like the Indonesian revolution of 1998 the dictatorship stops delivering economic growth and discovered that the populace actually didn’t like the dictatorship very much. Rich capitalist states give their people regular opportunities to choose to try something else while Marxist run states don’t.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 12:46 am

Richard @419,

I linked to the trillions of plastic pieces in the anarctic. It wasn’t Engels. And the link was to that wild-eyed, revolutionary Marxist site, Scientific American. And this part of your complaint?

Like your “Trillions of Plastic Pieces” link: there’s a lot of science that goes into finding out about that, and then environmental activism to actually change the situation, and at every stage there’s some Marxist who’s willing to tell people that it’s all about capitalism in a knee-jerk, uninformed way and try to co-opt the people actually working on the issue.

This doesn’t describe any environmental activism I’ve ever witnessed, or read about. It actually sounds like you had a bad, personal run-in once, and you’ve decided that this must occur to everyone in the Green movement, everywhere, at all times — even though there is no evidence to support that.

“Marxists” aren’t exactly in huge numbers in America, and not all of them are Greens. I don’t think they have the numbers to do what you’re suggesting. My own affinities are with ecosocialism, and I’ve just never seen that co-opting process you describe. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, of course. But one would think there would be plenty of literature on the subject if it really were a widespread problem.

There isn’t.

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mattski 12.24.14 at 12:59 am

Plume,

I’m a market fundamentalist?? I thought I was saying that capitalism and socialism are both compatible and complimentary…

Is it fair to say that capitalism is behind rising living standards in China?

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Plume 12.24.14 at 1:03 am

Brett @435,

All one needs to do is to look at capitalism in the absence of democratic checks and balances to know what it really is in itself. If you look at its history, the way it came about, initially in England, through forcefully kicking people off their lands, blocking their ability to self-provide by ending access to hunting and fishing (altering game laws), destroying ancient commons, killing dozens of ancient holidays, driving small, local markets out of business — all to force sole proprietors and family businesses into the new factories instead . . . on to the child labor, indentured servitude, debtor’s prisons, slavery — which the rise of capitalism prolonged in America — wage slavery, sweat shops, 80 hour weeks, etc. etc. . . . If you actually study capitalism when it has the most free rein, it’s impossible to conclude that it is in any way, shape or form, anything but monstrous.

And even now, today, anywhere in the world where it is not strictly regulated, you have horrific working conditions and slave wages — like Foxconn, where people make 70 cents an hour to make your Ipads and commit suicide to escape capitalist hell.

There is no correlation between democracy and capitalism, or between capitalism and civil rights. They are in direct conflict/opposition. Civil rights (and workers’ rights) laws had to be established and enforced against the will of capitalists, who fought them to the very end, as they fought against every attempt to regulate their businesses and still do. Capitalism is anti-democratic to the core via its own internal logic. It is autocratic, authoritarian, top down. Real democracy is its mortal enemy, which is why, in America, capitalists did their best to prevent the economy itself, especially the workplace from being democratized.

They fight that to this day. Please, Brett, put away your right-wing fairy tales and study the actual history.

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J Thomas 12.24.14 at 1:05 am

#433 Chris Warren

Those trying to defend capitalism do not even understand what it is they are seeking to defend.

Yes, and those trying to attack it probably don’t understand it all that well either.

To really understand it, you need more than a bunch of stories that kind of make sense. You need to actually look at things and observe how they work.

But mostly you can’t do that. Go to a local branch of a big corporation, and tell the manager you want to study his company so please will he let you follow his employees around and look at his books. Do you think he will give you permission? He would likely think you want to do industrial espionage, but you’re extremely naive and incompetent at it. You have no right to find out how businesses actually work.

The information you would really need to find out how the economy really works, is not available. It might be possible to get sample bits of it. Get something like half of all the anthropology departments to send their students out to get jobs, and observe whatever they can observe. Some of them would get promotions that would let them observe different things. By collating lots of reports you might learn a lot. But in the short run, the data is missing.

Why do so many people believe they know what’s going on? It’s basicly a sort of religion. It’s like religious faith. Marxists tend to believe in Marx. Capitalism-worshippers believe in other dead economists. Of course they can’t persuade each other, any more than Christians persuade Muslims or vice versa.

So I think if you want to get results, they need to be results that are kind of irrelevant to either side. If your ideas look leftist then the Right will try to stop you. If they look rightist then the center will try to stop you. They need to not fit either side.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 1:06 am

Mattski, @437,

No. I didn’t say you were. But you sound like one in the way you’re trying to get me to say nice things about capitalism and its ability to create material wealth. Nowhere in your question — or any of your posts so far — was the acknowledgement that the material wealth it creates is incredibly limited to a very small portion of humanity. Wanted me to say that’s a good thing is . . . . beyond puzzling, coming from a liberal.

Again, all the numbers and data I posted on inequality show that, and it pretty much all came from liberal, centrist and nonpartisan sources. None of it came from Marxist sources.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 1:16 am

And the beyond goes beyond just those limits. It’s extracted from workers and the their expense in the first place. Material wealth for some means poverty for many others. And because capitalism is a zero sum game, many someones pay the prices for that, all down the line . . . from the concentration of capital through primitive accumulation in 18th century Britain, on through the continued use of that method, especially in colonies. The rich capitalist countries became richer by stealing resources from poor non-capitalist countries, and enslaved colonial populations after stealing their resources. Once slavery was finally ended, they enslaved them in a different manner, through obscenely low wages and obscenely harsh working conditions.

This is still going on two centuries later.

It’s all too easy for middle class Americans to completely forget the cost of our relative material wealth, where it comes from, who pays for it in sweat and blood, its effects on the environment . . . and even more so for rich Americans, etc.

Marxism isn’t the only perspective that sees this. But it is generally the the least compromised.

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mattski 12.24.14 at 1:39 am

Nowhere in your question — or any of your posts so far — was the acknowledgement that the material wealth it creates is incredibly limited to a very small portion of humanity.

I don’t acknowledge it because I don’t think it’s true.

http://www.statista.com/topics/1416/smartphone-market-in-china/

http://www.engadget.com/2014/02/11/two-thirds-of-americans-now-have-smartphones/

http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-569.pdf

http://thenextweb.com/asia/2014/01/16/chinas-internet-population-numbered-618m-end-2013-81-connecting-via-mobile/

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Chris Warren 12.24.14 at 1:51 am

Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 12:36 am

I’m using capitalism to mean the mostly unregulated

free market economic system that developed in Britain from the

1780s.

This capitalism was based on massive dispossession and

exploitation of Irish, Scottish, and English civilians through

clearences and enclosures and famines.

It was also based on massive international slavery and the

extermination of natives tribes.

This was all heavily regulated by a corrupted British legal

system, a corrupted parliamentary system, and brutal tactics by the East India Company and Generals such as Clive, Gage and Amherst.

Your comment that:

Capitalism, democracy and human rights are fairly strongly correlated.

is denied by all history and reality.

Capitalism only exhibits respect for democracy and human rights either after a lot of blood has been shed, or there has been a potent trade union tradition when gains were squeezed out.

444

Chris Warren 12.24.14 at 1:57 am

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 1:05 am

There is a difference between religion and science.

When Marx saw the poverty of the British working class – he was not looking a a religious figment.

When Marx entered the British Museum and took his seat in the library he was engaged in science – not religion.

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Bruce Wilder 12.24.14 at 2:05 am

Brett Dunbar @ 435

One of the central problems with re-ifying capitalism as a definite thing, that we could overthrow or exchange for some other “system” is that the industrial revolution has been such a dynamic and complex political evolution. “Capitalism” has not remained what it was in 1776 or what it was in 1826 or 1896 or 1936 or 1966.

I do not like identifying “capitalism” with trade. The most problematic aspects are not about trade, but about domination and hierarchy. This is true for 21st Century capitalism, equipped with the technologies of computing and communication revolutionizing everything, and it was true of the 20th C “socialism” that was so enamoured with planning.

J Thomas @ 437?

Your little story of the co-op had more and better economics than the whole rest of the thread. There has actually been a lot of observational of one kind or another done by sociologists and historians. It is not as if there is no data. We all live in the economy.

The problem is that theoretical and ideological dogmas filter so much out and distort the rest. Common sense is not enough, either, as people have limited perspectives without better education. Raising consciousness!

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Plume 12.24.14 at 2:13 am

Chris Warren @442,

Again, well said. In fewer words than my own attempt to say the same things.

Brett’s right-wing fairy tale version of capitalism wants us to believe that capitalism itself is responsible for its own regulation, restrictions and laws that tamped down its power to oppress and exploit. He wants us to credit capitalism for the things done in opposition to capitalism and its predatory nature/effects. He wants the fight against capitalist exploitation to be folded into capitalism itself, so we forget how hard it fought against those regulations, restrictions, rules of the road, etc. etc. So we give all the credit to capitalism, rather than the two centuries of struggle against its oppression.

An analogy: A school has a major bully problem. A set of bullies has terrorized a school long enough to force the administration to impose strict rules against bullying. The Bretts of this world come along and try to credit the bullies for the reforms. Or, they go further. They try to say those bullies are naturally amenable and in sync with those reforms, and actually imposed them upon themselves. Their own wondrous virtue, according to the right-wing fairy tale, led to those reforms

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Plume 12.24.14 at 2:25 am

Bruce @444,

The problem is that theoretical and ideological dogmas filter so much out and distort the rest. Common sense is not enough, either, as people have limited perspectives without better education. Raising consciousness!

The problem is that you, and all too many “liberals” in general, believe you don’t have theoretical and ideological dogmas/blinders of your own to contend with, and that you’re above them. They’re only for those other people. You have them, too, Bruce. Obviously. You’re every bit as stuck in ideology as anyone else, even if you think you’re in some no-spot of common sense, pragmatics and practicality, between extremes.

It’s a bit like all too many white people in their conception of the effects of race. They honestly believe they’re “neutral” on that issue, transcend it, that they and don’t see race or see things through a racial prism. They grow up in that bubble, wondering why others can’t transcend it all like they do. It’s actually an incredibly arrogant way to see things, and its sense of certainty is unearned. As is the smugness that often accompanies it.

You’re in that bubble, Bruce. Break free!

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Anarcissie 12.24.14 at 2:28 am

Chris Warren 12.24.14 at 1:57 am @ 443:
‘…. When Marx entered the British Museum and took his seat in the library he was engaged in science – not religion.’

In that case people who actually followed his work ought not to speak of ‘Marxism’, any more than we speak of physics as ‘Newtonism’ or ‘Einsteinism’.

449

mattski 12.24.14 at 2:48 am

Bruce,

The most problematic aspects [of capitalism] are not about trade, but about domination and hierarchy.

Why start with an assumption that domination and hierarchy are the children of capitalism?

450

mattski 12.24.14 at 2:49 am

Plume, I have a response to you in moderation.

Anarcissie, good point!

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Plume 12.24.14 at 3:00 am

Mattski @448,

Am interested in Bruce’s response on that one, too. I agree with him. But I don’t think he would frame it as “children” of capitalism, but as intrinsic to it.

Domination and hierarchy. Both are natural to capitalism. Domination was how it rose and how it spread. Domination is how it remains. And hierarchy is obvious. How is a business structured? A corporation? The pecking order among businesses and corporations? Top down. And capitalism, unlike all previous economic systems, provokes further and further divisions of labor. Adam Smith talked about that early on with his example of a pin factory:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_process

Adam Smith in his famous (1776) example of a pin factory. Inspired by an article in Diderot’s Encyclopédie, Smith described the production of a pin in the following way:

”One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head: to make the head requires two or three distinct operations: to put it on is a particular business, to whiten the pins is another … and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which in some manufactories are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometime perform two or three of them.”

Smith also first recognized how the output could be increased through the use of labor division. Previously, in a society where production was dominated by handcrafted goods, one man would perform all the activities required during the production process, while Smith described how the work was divided into a set of simple tasks, which would be performed by specialized workers. The result of labor division in Smith’s example resulted in productivity increasing by 24,000 percent (sic), i.e. that the same number of workers made 240 times as many pins as they had been producing before the introduction of labor division.

The division of labor expands hierarchies. No previous economic system provoked as much.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 3:01 am

Mattski,

Looking forward to reading it. Will check back tomorrow.

G’night, all.

453

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 3:34 am

#443 Chris Warren

There is a difference between religion and science.

When Marx saw the poverty of the British working class – he was not looking a a religious figment.

Sure. Nobody could deny the poverty of the British working class. It was apparent to everybody. What it *meant* though, was not so obvious. That’s something that people had to read in.

When Marx entered the British Museum and took his seat in the library he was engaged in science – not religion.

It was the 19th century version of Big Data. But what good was it, really? It’s easy to mythologize that experience, but if you had access to the same data what could you do with it?

The way I have been trained to look at it, economies are giant feedback systems. Here’s a simplified version of the problem you get looking at them. Let’s start out assuming that all the economic relationships are linear. That simplifies the math a lot. So we have 10 variables and we set up a markov chain, we look at the linear ways those 10 variables influence each other. And right away, we need to estimate 100 parameters. We can pay attention to a few big ones we think we know about, and hope all the others are small enough they don’t matter. So we try to estimate equilibrium states from real data, and we get a pretty good estimate for the most important variable, and it’s fuzzier for the next most important, and the farther down the list you go the less you can tell from the data. Even after all the assumptions.

So then you get more ambitious and you want to look at 100 variables. Now you need to estimate 10,000 parameters. It is very hard to get the data to estimate 10,000 parameters. Unless you guess.

Marx was making up JustSo stories. You see that sort of thing a lot in evolutionary biology. People see something, and they make up stories about how it could have evolved. They argue about which stories are right. But it’s just stories until you can actually find evidence.

For example, there’s DNA evidence that all over the western world, about 10% of babies have fathers other than the mother’s husband. Why is that? Male sociobiologists hypothesized that women choose the best man they can get to be a provider, and then choose the genetically best men who are willing to have sex with them to have children with. That way they get the best genes for their children, while they also get the best care they can get for them. The superior males don’t have to get tied down raising children because they get their pick of women without that.

Female sociobiologists suggested that women are afraid to be too dependent on one man so they try to get backups handy in case something goes wrong. They have sex not with “superior” men but with men who are willing to be backups, who will take care of them given the chance.

I suggested that two parents can produce only four HLA groups, and the wrong disease could disable the whole family at once. Occasional children by another male — any male who isn’t too closely related to her man — increases her family’s genetic diversity and disease resistance.

Who’s right? The one with the best story?

Male sociobiologists argued that the reason men can’t tell when a woman is ovulating is that this gives women a chance to have sex with their husbands most of the time but still sneak out when they’re fertile to have sex with somebody better.

Female sociobiologists argued that the reason women themselves can’t tell when they’re ovulating is that this makes it more likely they’ll get pregnant when they don’t want to. Evolution favors women who have as many children as they can raise successfully, not women who stop when the burden gets almost unbearable.

I suggested that lots of women can tell when they ovulate, and lots of men can tell too. It might be because they are better off knowing, and it might be a side effect of big brains and curiousity.

Marx made up plausible stories about “the economy”. What would make it science, would be to actually test his ideas and see whether the feedback loops he suggested are the feedback loops that actually happen. But I think most of this would be very hard to test, just like most of sociobiology is very hard to test.

It isn’t really science until you test it against real data. Before that it’s JustSo stories. Though some of them can be very very plausible, and they can point the way toward plausible outcomes. If a reasonable-looking model gets unexpected results, then maybe the real thing might get similar results even if it doesn’t work just like the model. If you think you know that something can’t happen, and it does happen in a reasonable model, that’s reason to doubt your certainty.

454

Rich Puchalsky 12.24.14 at 5:54 am

Plume: “And the link was to that wild-eyed, revolutionary Marxist site, Scientific American.”

You keep arguing as if there are two sides, and that since you linked to the SciAm story I must be questioning it if I question Marxism. But Marxism has nothing to do with the science in that article. (you can read the original journal article here if you don’t want the journalistic version.) The article can be perfectly fine and your implications taken from it can still be nonsense.

Me: “at every stage there’s some Marxist who’s willing to tell people that it’s all about capitalism in a knee-jerk, uninformed way and try to co-opt the people actually working on the issue”

And that is exactly what you did, in miniature. At #371, you lead up to citing that article with “Capitalism produces mass-produced crap, with very cheap labor, so it can keep prices down. It has to keep prices down because so many people are in the “cheap labor” category, and can’t afford decent things. The so-called “democratization of consumption” is a mirage. Rich people get to buy high quality, well-crafted, durable items. The rest of us have to settle for mass-produced garbage, which we must replace over and over and over again — which is the entire point.”

Someone reading that takes the message that the trillions of bits of plastic in the ocean are there because of capitalism. And the implication is that we have to do something about capitalism in order to get rid of the plastic. Both of those are things that Marxists like to believe, but they aren’t true. The Montreal Protocol was implemented within the capitalist system. If we end up taking effective action against global warming, it’s going to be within the capitalist system — the timescale of the actions that we need to take is too short to do anything else. And yes, it’s possible within the system to replace the plastic junk with something else. Capitalists can still make money, just as abusively, selling some other kind of junk, and we can’t hold out for global overthrow of current political systems in order to do it.

And lastly, Marxism has very little to usefully say about this. Classic Marxism was all about the triumph of man over nature, and had no concept of environmental economics or environmental limits at all. That’s not really surprising, given that it’s a 19th century belief system. Marxist countries were just as bad, or worse, than capitalist ones environmentally. I know that we’re not supposed to say that any currently existing country is really Marxist, even though the People’s Republic of China is officially a single-party Communist Party state. But they cause just as much damage making plastic junk as any capitalist country. Just as with the discussion of deaths from famine above, there is nothing special about communist or socialist states that necessarily makes them any better than capitalist ones.

455

js. 12.24.14 at 6:49 am

I think that Marxism has been a destructive influence on the left, and has led directly to the weakened state that the left is in.

Are you talking about SDS/Weather Underground here? I am kind of at a loss as to the causal mechanism whereby Marxism “led directly” to the weakened state of the left in the US.

456

js. 12.24.14 at 6:50 am

Ugh, typos. Second para is me; first is RP.

457

Bruce Wilder 12.24.14 at 8:10 am

mattski: Why start with an assumption that domination and hierarchy are the children of capitalism?

First of all, I am not in favor of reifying capitalism, let alone encouraging our Miss Thing to have children. Second, I’m not assuming; I am observing.

It’s my hobby horse, I suppose, to complain constantly that economists talk “markets” when there are, in fact, few actual markets, while ignoring the salient role of hierarchies in organizing modern political and economic life. This just happens to be an instance where my constant complaint shows its validity, and the reason people persist with the nonsense is also exposed.

The modern bureaucratic business corporation, like the modern bureaucratic state, emerged coincident with the industrial revolution. If we call the modern institutional order, capitalism, then these are capitalist institutions. Indeed, bureaucratic business enterprise was the quintessential capitalist institution through the entire 20th century, arguably more important, and certainly closer to the daily experience of most people in the developed world, than “markets”. Between them, the bureaucratic business enterprise and the bureaucratic state completely transformed the way people lived. Marx was witness to one of the most wrenching phases of that transformation — the establishment of the wage labor system and accompanying money economy, but not a witness to some later developments that extended those early developments and shaped the experience of the 20th century.

It seems to me that neoclassical economics sets up a meritless ideological apologia for the existing order by prattling on about “the (free) market economy”. I do not think you have to be a radical Marxist to see that “market economy” is a Big Lie, a set-up for diversionary lines of argument.

Finally, I think hierarchical authority is problematic in several ways, because it can be enormously productive and also be the framework for abuse and costly failure. It has never been obvious how we can successfully guard the guardians in any hierarchy; power corrupts, they say, and I believe them.

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bob mcmanus 12.24.14 at 10:33 am

Why start with an assumption that domination and hierarchy are the children of capitalism?

Oh boy. Let me gulp some coffee and close the thread

1) I do recognize that domination and hierarchy have many mothers: racism, patriarchy, tribalism, colonialism, homophobia an capitalism. I may, for the sake of argument, give them equal weight, while believing that some are more amenable to change than others.

2) However, before those or under those or generating the above, creating domination and hierarchy, is political or possessive or social individualism, the creation or recognition of an instrumental self or identity for the purpose of interpellating the other as other with essential differences that are advantageous to the self in a concrete, competitive and contingent situation. The abstracted ahistorical self as property-holder, property including wealth, attractiveness, gender, citizenship, rights etc in a socially constructed environment is largely a condition and creation of modern liberalism and neoliberalism.

3) We may no longer accept the localized and historically given nature of selfhood and its worth, e.g. that your village may determine your status and privileges, but I maintain that some degree of submission, cooperation or coordination in individuation is still required for a decent and healthy society. The abstraction that the state or globe or market or “human rights” can support individuation is frankly a transcendentalism and religion, a mysticism.

4) I do believe that there is an alternative, or many, but leave that for another time. Nomadism is part of the answer.

459

Brett Bellmore 12.24.14 at 10:57 am

I’m trying to figure out where I’ve expressed “Brett’s right-wing fairy tale version of capitalism”. Was it by implication, somehow, in a, “You said my perpetual motion machine doesn’t work, so you must believe diesel engines don’t belch soot!” kind of way?

What I believe in are the laws of thermodynamics. Everything tends towards disorder, everything tends to break down. Failure doesn’t need to be explained, success does. NO system is perfect, and even a system that works at first breaks down over time.

But that’s no reason to obsess over a particularly destructive system, and prefer it to one that manages to sorta get by even as it’s turning into crap.

I would say we need a revolution here, were it not that revolutions tend to be 360 degrees, and end up in the same place with a lot of stuff broken. What we need is something a lot harder than a revolution. We need to fix things, in the teeth of people in power benefiting from their being broken. And you don’t fix things by being in love with a theory that piles up skull every time somebody tries it.

A friend of mine works in 3d printing, because he thinks the only thing that will actually help is a disruptive technology that lets people work around giant corporations AND giant governments. He might be right, he might be wrong, but I think he’s got a better chance of the former than you, comrades. Because he’s trying something that hasn’t already failed.

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mattski 12.24.14 at 11:56 am

Plume, my moderated response is up at 442.

As much as Rich P and I have butted heads previously, I think his 454 is quite good.

Bruce, bless your soul, but for all you complain about ‘hand waiving’ you are the undisputed King of hand waiving here at CT. At 457 you reiterate your stock peeves without grappling in any substantive way with my query. Clearly (I want to say CLEARLY) domination and hierarchy have been with us well before anything commonly recognized as capitalism came on the scene. Did you account for this? Slavery, war, institutionalized cruelty of every imaginable sort have been with us l-o-n-g before capitalism. Is this controversial??

I mean, to read you closely, at times you seem to be critiquing capitalism from the right, as when you insist that, well, there really are very few true markets! Where are our precious markets?! Why can’t we have markets?

You say neoclassical economic constitutes an apologia for the existing order. OK, not responsive to my question, but fine. Still, there are some awesome economists out there who AREN’T devoted to justifying the status quo. Why not credit the profession for that salutary fact?

Anyway, to my friend mcmanus I say: Who says you get to close the thread? … 500 comments, baby!

461

mattski 12.24.14 at 12:10 pm

**On the grounds that stuff like this is routinely ignored here I’m re-posting a link.

Plume. Take a deep breath. Read this article.

462

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 12:59 pm

#4650 Mattski

Bruce, bless your soul, but for all you complain about ‘hand waiving’ you are the undisputed King of hand waiving here at CT.

It’s a blog. What do you want him to do, prove everything he says and give real-world examples? But when he complains that whole academic disciplines are dominated by hand waving, that’s important if true. They really ought to be more rigorous.

At 457 you reiterate your stock peeves without grappling in any substantive way with my query. Clearly (I want to say CLEARLY) domination and hierarchy have been with us well before anything commonly recognized as capitalism came on the scene. Did you account for this? Slavery, war, institutionalized cruelty of every imaginable sort have been with us l-o-n-g before capitalism. Is this controversial??

He’s talking about a particular kind of domination. I’ve read the claim that a mesopotamian priest would have no trouble running an 1850 slave plantation, once he learned the language. It was not very different. but he would have a whole lot to learn before he could run a 1900 corporation. Double-entry bookkeeping etc, and a lot about dealing with employees.

Slaves are property. They are investments that require maintenance. Employees are not investments. They work eagerly because they cost nothing and they are scared you might throw them away.

Nowadays in the USA if you are an able-bodied man who doesn’t have a job, the question is why haven’t you found a job? You can be homeless, and if you get hungry enough you can commit a crime to get the right to go to prison and be fed.

Your employer doesn’t have to stand over you with a whip to make you work. You have to convince him that you’re valuable and he shouldn’t throw you away. If he does, then you can look for pizzas in dumpsters and find a public place to sleep where people won’t notice you. You have no right to anything the economy produces, or any of the bounty of nature, unless your boss gives you that right. It’s different from old forms of domination.

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engels 12.24.14 at 1:22 pm

So let me see if I’ve got this straight- when it comes to understanding or opposing the system of oppression we live under there is nothing of value to be found in Marx’s writings or the Marxist tradition, but 3D printers and yoga are both promising developments.

You know, if I thought the world’s political future was in the hands of half a dozen middle class white American dudes with internet connections I might have found reading this thread rather depressing.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 1:38 pm

Rich @454,

You keep arguing as if there are two sides, and that since you linked to the SciAm story I must be questioning it if I question Marxism. But Marxism has nothing to do with the science in that article. (you can read the original journal article here if you don’t want the journalistic version.) The article can be perfectly fine and your implications taken from it can still be nonsense.

You keep arguing about things I never said, as if I said them. It’s pretty clear to me that you haven’t read what I’ve written, or you’ve just skimmed it. And that’s okay. You’re obviously not required to read it. But, if you’re going to comment on it, please do.

The main thing here, Rich, is you’re stuck on the “Marxism” aspect. You can’t seem to get past that. So you think if I say, “I like pizza,” that I’m saying this “from a Marxist point of view,” and it can’t be credible because of that. So, instead of dealing with my enjoyment of pizza, you think the topic is the “Marxist perspective” on that enjoyment.

No. Pretty much the entire left would recognize that those trillions of pieces of plastic in the Arctic are a consequence of the capitalist system. There isn’t any other deduction possible, if a person takes an honest look at accelerating consumption, Grow or Die, waste, consumerism, globalization, the profit motive, etc. etc. No one needs to be a “Marxist” to come to that conclusion. They just need to be honest and perspicacious.

You also keep missing that I’m a Green. I was a Green before I got into reading Marx and about him. I favor ecosocialism among all the forms of socialism, and linked to an excellent site about it. And ecosocialists will point out to you where Marx does concern himself with the environment. But, Marx’s concern, or lack of concern, is beside the point. If you actually think “Marxists” haven’t gone well beyond Marx, or that they must remain in the 19th century, or that they can’t discuss things Marx didn’t discuss — if that is your take — then it’s just a waste of time to debate “Marxism” with you. You’ve made up your mind that it’s all horrible and evil, that all Marxists are the same, that they screw up the Green movement at every turn, that they’re apparently everywhere, etc. etc.

One last attempt, Rich. “Marxists” are a very diverse lot. They’re not the bogeyman. They’re not hiding under your bed. They’re every bit as independent in thought as anyone else, and they’ve gone beyond Marx.

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J Thomas 12.24.14 at 1:39 pm

#465 Mattski

I mean, to read you closely, at times you seem to be critiquing capitalism from the right, as when you insist that, well, there really are very few true markets! Where are our precious markets?! Why can’t we have markets?

Here are two arguments in favor of the status quo. One of them I’ve seen Brett Bellmore making, though I don’t know if he really intends it. It goes, “There are lots more ways to do things that don’t work, than ways that work. We have something that works pretty well, so let’s not make any changes until we’re sure they will work better, since most changes will be worse.” A variation on this would be “The US economy used to work a lot better than it does now. Let’s change back to the way it was in the 70’s except this time stay out of Vietnam.”

The second argument in favor of the status quo goes, “Capitalism is the only way that works, the best way. So let’s try to keep the government out of the economy. Cut down on government spending that transfers wealth. Cut down on government regulation of all kinds, particularly environmental regulation, safety regulation, interference in management/labor relations, and anti-trust action. Stop trying to regulate the banking industry, they regulate themselves better than anybody else can. Get rid of the Federal Reserve. Balance the federal budget. Free markets work better than government interference. What we have now would be as good as it gets except for government. Capitalism without government works better. If you want to make any changes that aren’t for more unrestrained capitalism, you’re wrong.”

As an argument in favor of the status quo, this sucks. You can’t argue that free markets produced our wealth when we don’t and didn’t have free markets.

Arguing in favor of free markets and the capitalism that people imagine, is like arguing in favor of communism. It sounds good in theory but there’s no evidence it would work in practice.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 1:41 pm

Brett,

There are two Bretts on this thread. I meant Brett, Brett.

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J Thomas 12.24.14 at 1:49 pm

#464 Plume

Pretty much the entire left would recognize that those trillions of pieces of plastic in the Arctic are a consequence of the capitalist system. There isn’t any other deduction possible, if a person takes an honest look at accelerating consumption, Grow or Die, waste, consumerism, globalization, the profit motive, etc. etc. No one needs to be a “Marxist” to come to that conclusion. They just need to be honest and perspicacious.

You’re getting played by the same semantic trick as these others. There’s “capitalism”, a theory about free markets and ownership of capital and all that. Then there’s “capitalism”, the way the world economy works today. These are two entirely different things, but people use the same name for them and switch back and forth between them as if they don’t notice that they’re different.

Obviously, the recent world economy produced the plastic. Would it have still produced the plastic if it was run by government bureaucracies instead of corporate bureaucracies? Probably. Would it still have produced the plastic if it was actually a capitalist system? Probably.

Would it have done that if the economy was run by ecologists, who think in terms of material cycling and energy flow and who try to track where everything goes? Probably not. But that’s a new idea, developed in the middle 1800’s, that has not gotten much traction. Because even though it’s vitally important for the system as a whole, nobody in particular gets a big personal advantage from thinking that way.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 1:59 pm

Mattski,

Thanks for the article on mindfulness. I studied Zen Buddhism for a time, but have since lapsed. Of course, it’s rather obvious from my posts that I’m not currently on the Eightfold Path.

:>)

But I’m not getting how this is relevant. I really don’t. Mindfulness studies are not a part of capitalism. They’re an external addition to capitalist practices in some businesses — a growing number, which is a good thing. But they’re external. The key here is that capitalism’s natural effects require externals like mindfulness. It requires a ton of outside help — laws, regulations, restrictions, OSHA, the EPA, the SEC, plus various psychological supports. More on that below . . .

On that domination and hierarchy thing. No one is claiming that it started with capitalism. But no one has to. The point isn’t that it existed prior to capitalism — it did. Obviously. The point is that it generates it, naturally, as a part of its own structure, mechanics, internal logic, motives and goals — more than any previous economic system.

The point is that systems will discourage or encourage certain outcomes, naturally, as a matter of course, and it’s just common sense to want a system that encourages “good stuff” and discourages “bad stuff.” Systems do do that. They project certain things, and hide others. They multiply certain things, exponentially, and reduce others, severely. They require this, can’t use that, etc.

Boiled down, an analogy:

You have a system in place for a school yard. This system generates a lot of fighting, injuries, anger, frustration, bad blood, and requires a lot of cleanup, referees, “conflict resolution” and so on. This system provokes combat, which then has to be broken up and adjudicated. Since everyone, hopefully, wants an end to all of that conflict, and they see that the system itself generates it, does it make more sense to invest in the cleanup and referees, or in an alternative that doesn’t generate so much conflict in the first place?

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Brett Bellmore 12.24.14 at 2:05 pm

“but 3D printers and yoga are both promising developments.”

Not so sure about the yoga, but enabling individuals to have a little piece of productive capital in their own home IS a promising development. I would say that one of the chief problems of modern capitalism, is that it is impossible, as a practical matter, for everybody to be a capitalist. Much of the productive machinery is just too expensive for individual ownership, making the threshold between worker and capitalist too high for any but a tiny fraction of the population to cross. Sure, you can own shares in the machinery, but that’s so easy to game.

Now you can get a 3d printer for under $k, and their capabilities are growing fast, while the costs are dropping. *Eventually* this is going to arrive at the “replicator” Von Neumann proposed so long ago, a machine which can take matter an instructions, and produce a copy of itself, or useful hardware, depending on the instructions. We could probably build a replicator today, if pushed, but it would be the size of a city. In 20-30 years we stand a good chance of being able to build replicators that fit in a closet or desktop.

How do you think it’s going to change a capitalist economy, when people can pass around productive machinery like sourdough starters? Trade designs for anything they need on the internet, and print them out right in their homes?

Gonna be a lot different from a world where building computers requires IC foundries that cost over a billion dollars a pop.

So, yes, I think 3d printers stand a better chance of changing things, once fully developed, than the theories of any political theorist.

470

Plume 12.24.14 at 2:11 pm

J Thomas,

You’re getting played by the same semantic trick as these others. There’s “capitalism”, a theory about free markets and ownership of capital and all that. Then there’s “capitalism”, the way the world economy works today. These are two entirely different things, but people use the same name for them and switch back and forth between them as if they don’t notice that they’re different.

No. In theory, and in practice, both, the trillion pieces of plastic are a result of capitalism, Capitalism, “capitalism,” or “Capitalism.” They are a result of a system that places the individual pursuit of wealth ahead of public health, profits over people, over the planet and sustaining life on this planet for humans, wildlife, flora and fauna, etc. etc. They are the result of a system with Grow or Die as an imperative.

Again, Kunkel’s review of David Harvey’s book:

Marx proposed that ‘the tendency to create the world market is directly given in the concept of capital itself,’ and Harvey glosses the idea: ‘The necessary geographical expansion of capitalism is … to be interpreted as capital in search for surplus value. The penetration of capitalist relations into all sectors of the economy, the mobilisation of various “latent” sources of labour power (women and children, for example), have a similar basis.’ Hence both the involution and the imperialism of capital, commodifying the most intimate of formerly uncommodified practices (education, food preparation, courtship) as well as sweeping formerly non-capitalist regions (China and Eastern Europe) into the global market.

And you should know by now, given my own proposals for a communally based, decentralized, 100% real democracy, with lottery-style, rotating “leadership,” that I’m not in favor of a huge bureaucratic state running things. Not saying you’re doing this, but that’s all too often the only other choice people give. To them, it’s either the existing (Western-based) capitalist system, or the state capitalism of the USSR.

No. There are thousands of other choices in the real world, and millions in the theoretical world.

471

Plume 12.24.14 at 2:25 pm

Brett @469,

Not so sure about the yoga, but enabling individuals to have a little piece of productive capital in their own home IS a promising development. I would say that one of the chief problems of modern capitalism, is that it is impossible, as a practical matter, for everybody to be a capitalist. Much of the productive machinery is just too expensive for individual ownership, making the threshold between worker and capitalist too high for any but a tiny fraction of the population to cross. Sure, you can own shares in the machinery, but that’s so easy to game.

I like home-ownership, too. And most leftists I know, including meself, are in favor of it even in an alternative without capitalism. The means of production would be held in common, not one’s home — or personal “stuff” inside the home.

And you are correct about not everyone being a capitalist. It’s impossible. Capitalists, by definition, concentrate (in their hands) far more than their share of, um, capital, plus natural resources, workers, etc. etc. Obviously, the math doesn’t work out for anything beyond a small minority doing that — which is why the system is immoral from Day One. One of the many reasons. A capitalist, right off the bat, has already hoarded far more than his or her share of a wide array of things — wealth, income, power, access, resources, etc. — and that must be taken from others. In order for the capitalist to concentrate X, Y and Z in his or her hands, many others can’t have X, Y and Z. Again, that’s just math and physics.

Which is seen in the tiny percentage of business owners with workforces overall. In America, it’s roughly 7 million. Sole proprietors, who are not “capitalists” out of the gate, are in the 40 million range, which is also a minority. Actual capitalists make up roughly 5% of US households. Roughly.

472

Rich Puchalsky 12.24.14 at 2:58 pm

js.: “Are you talking about SDS/Weather Underground here? I am kind of at a loss as to the causal mechanism whereby Marxism “led directly” to the weakened state of the left in the US.”

No, SDS/Weather Underground was not important, and I wasn’t referring specifically to the U.S. But if you look at the state of the left in the U.S., you see quite a lot of activity in the early 20th century — Marxists, anarchists, non-Marxist socialists, union organizers all going strong. Then you get FDR and his attempt to preserve the system by incorporating a lot of the left agenda within it. (I vaguely remember that early socialist parties had pretty much their complete agenda adopted.) But what happened during that period was the Soviet Union. Marxists became the left at an international level and destroyed other strands of the left whenever they could (as with the anarchists in Spain). And they were indefensible. It’s easy for a few remaining Marxists to say that Stalin wasn’t “the left” now, but at the time, that was the international left that was actually in existence. The left is weakened now because when it was instantiated at a serious level, that involved mass deaths, autocracy, the gulags, and economic failure. That crippled the left everywhere.

The Marxist defense is generally to say that Marxism-Leninism isn’t implicit in Marxism. But as an anarchist I’ve read a bit about the Marx/Bakunin conflict and the split of the First International. As far as I can see, authoritarianism was part of Marx’ theory from the beginning, and his practice when he was directly in politics was really rather similar to Lenin’s when Lenin was a revolutionary organizer.

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Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 3:03 pm

@ 465 “There are lots more ways to do things that don’t work, than ways that work. We have something that works pretty well, so let’s not make any changes until we’re sure they will work better, since most changes will be worse.”

Would be a fairly accurate summary of my view. I’m actually quite a bit to the left of Brett Bellamore.

Combined with the observation that capitalist states in Western Europe, North America &c. are generally the most pleasant places to live. As some of the things that enable markets need to work most effectively are also good things in themselves. Rule of Law for example. Having a clear consistent independent legal system enforcing contracts and defending businesses exclusive rights to their trademarks and other property is both extremely important to the smooth operation of markets and makes the life of the ordinary citizen a lot easier than an arbitrary system as what is says the rules are and what the rules actually are is the same. In the process of transitioning from a command economy to a market economy China is attempting to bring in Rule of Law and in the process is copying large chunks of English commercial law.

I feel that the bit were Marx tries to predict what will replace capitalism is not simply incorrect it was something he had no business even attempting. He failed to do something that was simply impossible. The future depends far too much on chance. For an example of unpredictability look at brands, brand names didn’t really emerge until the Edwardian period, brands now dominate retail. What essentially happened was the middle classes had enough money to buy quality goods so branding allowed the goods of a specific manufacturer to develop a reputation for quality if you bought Lyle’s Golden Syrup or Coleman’s Mustard (both of which still use Edwardian packaging) from any shop you knew you were getting previously the shopkeeper had needed a reputation now the brand got the reputation.

Marxist economics is generally Pseudo-scientific as several important elements have been falsified, it was a reasonable hypothesis at the time it just happened to make some incorrect assumptions and used an incorrect pricing model under circumstances where the wrongness mattered. Austrian economics is worse, it isn’t even a pseudo-science, it’s theology it declared some things to be unquestionably true and then engaged in pure rationalism without comparing the deductions to reality and questioning the assumptions, indeed explicitly rejecting falsifiability. Some of von Hayak’s ideas are insightful, prices in a market as a signalling mechanism for example. The methodology used is absurd.

Competitive markets exist pretty much everywhere in a capitalist economy. For example if I want to buy food I can shop locally at ASDA, TESCO, Wm Morrison, J Sainsbury, Lidel, Aldi, Co-op all of which compete and are prevented from colluding by the state. I can buy my gas, electricity, phone service and television from a range of providers, the state by separating the infrastructure from service provision has created a competitive market (not always the most well functioning market but Britain was a pioneer in bring in competition to these areas and it is still a work in progress). Water supply and sewage is one of the few areas which is still a regulated monopoly, generally a second-best solution but for physical reasons the only available one.

Colonies are not the source of the West’s wealth the African ones were pretty much entirely a massive money sink, administering them cost a lot more than they raised in tax revenue. Britain subsidised the colonies not the other way round. India might have been profitable early on but certainly wasn’t later. Rich countries make most of their money trading with rich countries and barely trade with poor ones. Our relationship with poor countries can be summarised as “they make very little we want, we make very little they can afford”.

474

Plume 12.24.14 at 3:10 pm

Rich,

Then you get FDR and his attempt to preserve the system by incorporating a lot of the left agenda within it. (I vaguely remember that early socialist parties had pretty much their complete agenda adopted.)

No. FDR split the difference between the left and the business establishment. It was a compromise. Liberalism and social democracy are compromises between left and right in a sense. And the socialist parties in FDR’s time weren’t happy with that compromise . . . and they knew that FDR basically used them in order to get the business elite to at least partially come on board with his proposals.

It was one of those “You can deal with me, or the guys with the pitchforks” things. There actually was a pretty strong left back then, and that strengthened the hand of liberals. It placed them in “the center” of things, instead of outside “the possible.” Today, without any kind of viable political left, “liberals” are seen as outside the possible, to its left, even though they’re center-left. “The center” has shifted a great deal to the right.

475

mattski 12.24.14 at 3:33 pm

JT,

Employees are not investments. They work eagerly because they cost nothing and they are scared you might throw them away.

Sorry, this is egregious. Employees don’t work for nothing, and they are most definitely investments. Businesses routinely spend huge sums training their workforce. They run the very real risk that employees will leave and take that investment with them to their competitors. And this happens all the time.

Arguing in favor of free markets and the capitalism that people imagine, is like arguing in favor of communism. It sounds good in theory but there’s no evidence it would work in practice.

You have produced a marvelous pretzel of logic. What it means I have no idea. Except maybe that making any argument whatsoever is stoooopid. Is that what you mean?

You’re not bearing in mind the simple truth–I mentioned it above–that words have different uses, different meanings, and if you gloss over this you’re going to sow confusion. Which is exactly what you are doing.

Pure capitalism, as the political philosophers speak of it, is an ideal which we don’t find in our experience. The same can be said for pure socialism. Fine. OTOH, if you look at the world we live in, and if you look at the way these words are used in common discourse, you’ll find they have sufficient meaning to be useful. Buying and selling relatively freely, accumulating wealth, most of us refer to this as capitalism. It’s colloquial usage and it’s useful. Pooling our resources as a nation and paying for public goods, most of us call this socialism or something quite near it. I certainly call it socialism. I certainly support socialized medicine, socialized infrastructure, socialized criminal justice, socialized retirement programs, socialized education, and so on. And you know what? These are all facts, realities of modern life. The US may be lagging behind other advanced nations in the social insurance business, but that is a detail.

Democracy is far, far from “robust” in our world. That doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Unfortunately, I think a lot of what you write is just confused.

476

engels 12.24.14 at 3:39 pm

‘Pooling our resources as a nation and paying for public goods, most of us call this socialism or something quite near it. I certainly call it socialism. I certainly support socialized medicine’

So do lots of other Americans but it’s not what the word means (the term for this ‘social democracy’).

477

mattski 12.24.14 at 3:41 pm

Plume,

But I’m not getting how this is relevant. I really don’t. Mindfulness studies are not a part of capitalism.

It’s not relevant to you because you aren’t interested in the real world that we live in! You’re interested in your stereotype of what ‘capitalism’ is. Anything else just passes you by.

Nothing personal, Plume. Peace and happy holidays.

478

mattski 12.24.14 at 3:43 pm

engels,

Yeah, let’s argue about words! Because your meaning is the right meaning.

479

Rich Puchalsky 12.24.14 at 3:44 pm

Plume: “FDR split the difference between the left and the business establishment. It was a compromise.”

What you wrote at #474 is pretty much exactly what I meant. If some early socialist parties had their agenda adopted, it was because their agendas were already a compromise, intended to help them compete electorally.

As a sort of footnote, it also didn’t help that a good deal of left opposition to Stalin was Trotskyist. Trotskyist groups were / are famously authoritarian in their own right.

480

Anarcissie 12.24.14 at 3:49 pm

If we use a rather broad brush, we can depict the rise and decline of the Welfare State in America as related directly to the rise and decline of the Soviet Union. So that would be one accomplishment for Lenin and company, even if it was not very high on their lists. So also the response of people like Otto von Bismarck and FDR to socialist agitation: steal their thunder. In this area it is amusing to read the Fascist Manifesto of 1919. Everyone wanted to do something for the workers.

But now doing something for the workers no longer appeals to much of anyone, even the workers. Is this because we’re all so wealthy now? When I look out my window things seem about as grungy as ever, although as noted there is more plastic about. But as I’ve mentioned before, my attempts at activism, even mild stuff like organizing a union, have mostly fallen on deaf ears. The workers weren’t threatened by the Man’s cops, they just weren’t interested. I noticed this a long time ago, way back in the 1980s, so it’s not just the iPhones doing it.

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engels 12.24.14 at 3:52 pm

‘your meaning is the right meaning’

Thank you.

482

Anarcissie 12.24.14 at 3:55 pm

mattski 12.24.14 at 3:43 pm @ 478 — The important difference between socialism and social democracy or the Welfare State (my definitions) is in power relations, and one might want to preserve the ability to talk about it, I would think.

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bianca steele 12.24.14 at 4:04 pm

‘Pooling our resources as a nation and paying for public goods, most of us call this socialism or something quite near it. I certainly call it socialism. ‘

May you someday have coworkers who think cooperating with and respecting others, especially of lower or equal status, amounts to socialism.

484

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 4:07 pm

#473 Brett Dunbar

Competitive markets exist pretty much everywhere in a capitalist economy. For example if I want to buy food I can shop locally at ASDA, TESCO, Wm Morrison, J Sainsbury, Lidel, Aldi, Co-op all of which compete and are prevented from colluding by the state.

My co-op had no competition because it was a niche market. I was surprised to hear the manager bargaining with the guy with the Rice Dreams truck. “Sorry, I can only take a dozen of these, and a dozen of those.” “Aw, come on. You can do it.” She smiled at him placatingly. She was flirting. “No, I’m sorry, I really can’t. I can only push so many.”

I had assumed that we bought from suppliers and then sold to customers at a higher price. No. Our suppliers lent us the money to buy from them, a 90 day interest-free loan. They tried to give us food for free, more than we were willing to accept, and if we could sell it in 90 days then we didn’t have to put up any money at all.

It was before the days of just-in-time manufacturing. First they decided how much to make, and then they tried to get it out the door. Three months later they got their first firm evidence how well it was selling, so they could decide whether to raise or decrease production. Also they could dicker with the price if they wanted to.

Probably quarterly reports were quarterly because it took that long for companies to find out how well they were doing.

Our 90-days business was not an anomaly, it’s like that all through retailing. WalMart basicly sells shelf space to suppliers. You pay them for the right to put stuff on their shelves, and if you can’t get it to sell well enough then they reduce your shelfspace.

And so the various candy manufacturers compete with each other to sell the most candy. And Walmart, K-Mart, Sears, Lowes, etc are in competition as retailers. And Amazon is breaking into the system. As I understand it, if you make something and you want to sell it on Amazon, first you must sign a contract that there will be no other way for customers to get it as cheap as they can through Amazon. And you must pledge some number of items that will be available at that price. You do not ship that many items to Amazon on consignment, you keep them yourself and when somebody buys one from Amazon you will ship it and then once every three months or so Amazon will send you a check.

The reason you need Amazon is a lot of people believe they can’t get stuff any cheaper than through Amazon so it’s the only place they look. Amazon sells Amazon customers to you.

In general, the system does not work the way people think it does.

485

Plume 12.24.14 at 4:22 pm

Mattski @477,

It’s not relevant to you because you aren’t interested in the real world that we live in! You’re interested in your stereotype of what ‘capitalism’ is. Anything else just passes you by.

No, I’m very much interested in the real world we live in. I’m an anticapitalist because of that reality. Not because of theories. But because of observed reality, and history, and logic.

When you say, “Look, a few capitalist companies have introduced really cool things!!” you’re not telling me anything I don’t already know. I’ve been in the private sector for more than forty years, and have studied it for decades. What I’m trying to relay to you — and it’s not getting anywhere, obviously — is that you’re talking about things that are external to capitalism, that come from outside it, and are needed because capitalism is structurally oppressive, volatile, disruptive and immoral . . . if for no other reason than it concentrates so much wealth, access and income at the very top.

Mindfulness, IMO, is a really cool thing, and goes back thousands of years. I practiced it, too, as mentioned. But it’s got nothing to do with capitalism. And it’s very strange that you seem to want to fold it into capitalism and give capitalism credit for utilizing it. And more importantly, does the adaption of mindfulness by some companies do anything to alter mass inequality, pollution or waste intrinsic to and endemic with capitalism? Does mindfulness alter hierarchies, domination and oppression within the capitalist system?

Please demonstrate how it does, if you believe it does.

486

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 4:23 pm

#475 Mattski

“Employees are not investments. They work eagerly because they cost nothing and they are scared you might throw them away.”

Sorry, this is egregious. Employees don’t work for nothing, and they are most definitely investments.

You don’t usually *buy* employees, and after you hire them you don’t own them. So they aren’t investments. It’s like the difference between buying a car and leasing a car. One way you own it, the other way you don’t. “…like a rented mule….”

Businesses routinely spend huge sums training their workforce. They run the very real risk that employees will leave and take that investment with them to their competitors. And this happens all the time.

That’s one of the reasons they tend to make the training job-specific. Sales jobs are hard to do that with. If you’re good at selling used cars you’ll probably be good at selling computer security systems to large businesses, once you learn a little about computer security systems. But if you do something technical, even if it uses standard software, it’s likely to be a year before you’re productive at a new job. So they try to discourage job mobility even though they can’t legally prevent it.

But — this is the important part — if you are a slave and there is a recession, they probably want to keep you anyway. You are an investment, and your price is likely to be low during the recession. On the other hand if you are an employee then they will lay you off as soon as you are redundant. As an employee you are not an investment, you are a liability.

This makes employees cheaper than slaves. You have to pay for a slave upfront and then you are somewhat locked into your investment. But you can rent employees and then fire them pretty much at will.

So wage slavery is more efficient than literal slavery.

487

Bernard Yomtov 12.24.14 at 4:28 pm

So also the response of people like Otto von Bismarck and FDR to socialist agitation: steal their thunder.

What you call “stealing their thunder” might also be characterized either as:

1. Compromising

or

2. Recognizing the value of some of their ideas.

488

js. 12.24.14 at 4:29 pm

Marxists became the left at an international level and destroyed other strands of the left whenever they could (as with the anarchists in Spain). … The left is weakened now because when it was instantiated at a serious level, that involved mass deaths, autocracy, the gulags, and economic failure.

That is a hilarious assertion.

489

Plume 12.24.14 at 4:31 pm

Rich @479,

I agree with most of that. Though I think there was much more opposition to Stalin beyond just the Trotskyites. Orwell, Silone, Betrand Russell and Camus, come to mind, among others. IMO, it’s a bit of a broadbrush to limit that to Trotskyites.

A decent breakdown about the anti-Stalinist left here . . .

490

geo 12.24.14 at 5:16 pm

Brett D. @473: Colonies are not the source of the West’s wealth the African ones were pretty much entirely a massive money sink, administering them cost a lot more than they raised in tax revenue. Britain subsidised the colonies not the other way round. India might have been profitable early on but certainly wasn’t later. Rich countries make most of their money trading with rich countries and barely trade with poor ones.

This is an example of the same fallacy that has led John Q to wonder aloud in several posts why the US engaged in imperialist wars, since they tend to be a net financial loss to the country. But state policy is not responsive to “the country” as a whole, or even to the ruling class as a whole. Rather, it responds to intensive pressure from specific sectors with special interests in one policy or another, or, where the ruling class is divided, to the preponderance of ruling-class interest. So, for example, Wall Street and the export industries outweighed domestic-market-centered manufacturing industries in shaping international free-trade agreements. In wars and trade policies, there are always losers, and sometimes powerful ones. But the “national interest” is whatever they decide it has to be to rationalize the policy they decide on. Certainly “the country” as a whole, in the sense of the actual population, doesn’t even figure in policymakers’ calculations, except in determining public-relations strategies (otherwise known as electoral campaigns).

So it doesn’t matter whether India was a “net” loss to Britain. No one is calculating the net. The certainty of fierce opposition from the imperial lobby to the prospect of Indian independence would have outweighed any hypothetical support from industries that would have hypothetically benefited from it. As for the interests of ordinary citizens, they no more mattered to policymakers in 19th- and 20th-century Britain than they do to 20th- or 21st-century American ones. Why should they? Ordinary citizens don’t go to the same private schools or belong to the same clubs as policymakers, they don’t give enormous sums to parties and individual campaigns, they don’t mount ferocious PR campaigns, and they don’t provide lucrative jobs for ex-p0liticians. Increasingly, they don’t even vote.

491

Rich Puchalsky 12.24.14 at 5:25 pm

js.: “That is a hilarious assertion.”

Strangely enough, I don’t see the humor in it. Maybe we should limit each ideology to one world-historical screwup, and the Marxists have had their turn.

492

bianca steele 12.24.14 at 5:30 pm

Maybe we should limit each ideology to one world-historical screwup,

Funny.

493

Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 5:32 pm

Your co-op had competitors, food retailing is a pretty competitive market. You had a niche retailer, that can be a pretty good position to be in. You couldn’t carry as wide a range of products as a supermarket but you could be a better cheese-monger for example carrying a wider range of quality cheeses to relatively wealthy customers standard market segmentation. It sounds like if you had organised your co-op competently you actually had a viable business there.

The Co-op is the fifth largest supermarket chain in the UK with about 6.8% of the market Waitrose part of the employee owned John Lewis Partnership has about 5.1% which means that 11.9% of the market is held by explicitly socialist businesses.

494

engels 12.24.14 at 5:44 pm

Mattski: Despite what some people think, there’s no good reason not to drink red wine with fish
Me: Don’t be silly.
Mattski: By red wine I meant Sauvignon Blanc.
Me: That’s not a red wine.
Mattski: Now you’re just quibbling about definitions.

495

Plume 12.24.14 at 5:48 pm

After speaking with Mattski, Rich and others on this topic, I’m reminded of another aspect to the dynamic:

Prejudice.

It’s not difficult to see that the word “Marxist,” or the name “Marx,” seems to make people crazy and “pre-judge” all kinds of things as a result. All too many people here, for instance, seem to be assuming that “Marxists” aren’t people first, that they don’t live in the same world the rest of you do, that they aren’t swimming in the same capitalist soup we all swim in, and that they didn’t grow up hearing all the same messages of conformity with the status quo ante.

Speaking for myself at least, I’m a human being first, long before any reading of Marx or Marxists kicks in; an artist/poet/struggling novelist long before Marx, etc. kicks in; a secular humanist long before, etc. etc.; a Green long before . . . and I suspect most Marxists have similar personal dynamics. Contrary to the extremely prejudiced, non-Marxist view, we don’t see all things from a Marxist prism, and we don’t view anything from just that perspective. We don’t have to look through it to be critical of our current conditions, systems or likely future. All we need, all anyone needs, is to look at things with clear eyes, open minds, the willingness to question assumptions, hand-me-down conventions and authority in general.

Marxists are really, really good at that, if for no other reason than Marx and Marxism provides really great critical tools and language for that.

Those who are seriously prejudiced toward them could learn much from their example.

496

engels 12.24.14 at 5:52 pm

‘the Marxists have had their turn’

So have anti-Marxists, especially in US.

497

Plume 12.24.14 at 5:56 pm

Rich @491,

Strangely enough, I don’t see the humor in it. Maybe we should limit each ideology to one world-historical screwup, and the Marxists have had their turn.

Though I don’t share your viewpoint regarding whom to blame, if you want to go that route, I’m fine with it. Socialist, egalitarian, democratic theory predates Marx. It doesn’t need him. I think he contributes a great deal to the mix, especially via his critique of capitalism. But we don’t really need him. So I’m fine with your concept. As long as you apply it to capitalism. Capitalists have had their turn at bat as well, and their “world-historical screwup” dwarfs anything done by Marxists. Many times over. It’s not at all close, and it’s still ongoing.

So, I’ll trade ya. No more Marxism in exchange for no more capitalism, and we replace it with truly democratic, Green, egalitarian, socialist society.

498

Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 6:14 pm

The USA is rather different to the UK British political campaigns just don’t cost very much. The spending limits are both absolutely draconian and heavily enforced. Once you’ve raised as much money as you are allowed to spend there is no point to further fund raising.

Colonies were not the source of Britain’s wealth as they had an entirely marginal effect. Some individuals did well but overall they had a minimal economic impact. Nearly all of the UKs trade was and is with other rich countries. The hypothesis that the UK became rich due to exploiting colonies makes a few predictions, for example that a large portion of UK trade be in raw materials from colonies and that European states without substantial colonies should be poorer. Neither is supported by the evidence. Britain did import cotton from India, it also imported cotton from Egypt and the USA neither ruled by Britain at the time Britain’s damp climate was good for spinning cotton. Germany didn’t acquire colonies until long after becoming rich and even then the colonies were the ones no one wanted. What the evidence seems to show is that colonies were pretty much irrelevant. Some were taken in the process of eliminating slavery, Zanzibar for example.

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LFC 12.24.14 at 6:19 pm

B Dunbar 473
Rich countries make most of their money trading with rich countries and barely trade with poor ones. Our relationship with poor countries can be summarised as “they make very little we want, we make very little they can afford”.

This is much less true now than it used to be, given, among other things, the existence of multinational ‘supply chains’. Cf. China, India, Brazil, all now manufacturing powers (esp. China), with btw growing middle classes (albeit still a minority of the pop., at least in India and China). Cf. also clothing manufacturing in Bangladesh and the attendant controversies over working conditions and safety conditions. There are of course still poor countries that “make very little we want,” but OTOH a relatively poor W. African country like Ivory Coast supplies, iirc, most of the cocoa the ‘developed world’ imports. Nigeria exports oil; DR Congo exports the mineral ingredient (forget the name) that ends up in cell phones (the US “conflict minerals” legislation has had unintended effects here: see S. Raghavan, “In Congo, Unintended Harm from US Law,” Wash. Post, Dec. 1, 2014.)

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Plume 12.24.14 at 6:22 pm

Brett,

Your posts amount to massive excuse-making and apologist defenses of slavery, genocide and imperialism. You were home-schooled, weren’t you?

The rape of European colonies isn’t at all contested by actual historians. They know it happened. Not just Marxist historians. All historians falling under the “credible” umbrella know this.

Next, you’re going to be reading to us from some 1920s textbook that depicted American slavery as utterly benign.

Sheesh.

501

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 6:30 pm

#493 Brett Dunbar

Your co-op had competitors, food retailing is a pretty competitive market. You had a niche retailer, that can be a pretty good position to be in. You couldn’t carry as wide a range of products as a supermarket but you could be a better cheese-monger for example carrying a wider range of quality cheeses to relatively wealthy customers standard market segmentation. It sounds like if you had organised your co-op competently you actually had a viable business there.

We marketed to a collection of small niches. We provided various vegetarian options to vegetarians, and various cheap options to poor people who needed cheap grains, etc. Quality herbs to people who wanted exotic herbal teas, etc. (A couple of the herbs had prominent signs warning women not to take them if they were pregnant, because they were powerful abortifacients.) No other retailers wanted those niches, at that time.

The indian market down the street had a couple of their employees join the co-op and go through all the training to run the herb section. Then they went back and did the same thing in their own store. Some members got upset about that but they hadn’t done anything wrong, and the result was that the herbs got somewhat wider acceptance. Also they kept going after we closed down.

I had the sense that we were forbidden to organize competently. Our dominant ideology said we should not have a hierarchy. Nobody was paid to work more than 12 hours a week, until we hired those managers. It was supposed to run without central control. Lots of people put in 6 hours a month or so. It wasn’t supposed to generate much money, it was supposed to demonstrate that we could do things cheap without sucking money out of people’s purses. So we had a lot of people doing simple jobs that didn’t take much training, because that’s how we wanted it. We had a whole lot of good will. People gave us money and stuff.

If a competent business had tried to take our niche, they could surely have outcompeted us except perhaps for customer loyalty. But nobody wanted to. They could have seen that we were bringing in a lot of money, but I guess if they had to pay $5/hour for employees to do the work ours did, they would have had to raise prices. Probably only a few of our workers got discounts that were worth $5/hour to them, though a few poor underemployed workers did very well. A real business would have needed a storefront that looked good, while we did fine with an old building that had a run-down medical imagine office, and upstairs an alternative-medicine office and pharmacy (they ran a mail-order business in alternative medicine), an accupressure office, a cheap lawyer, a tattoo parlor, and for awhile a barbershop, with a gravel parking lot. A real business would have needed to advertise, while we kept a low profile in case the health inspectors or somebody investigated us. (They did, once, and said we shouldn’t package flour in a room with hanging flourescent lights or laid linoleum tile. They gave us a gentle warning and went away and never came back.)

I guess I’m saying that a real business would have had a lot of expenses that customers would have expected them to pay, while we had a mystique that we were doing guerrilla economy or something, and people didn’t expect us to look that respectable.

So much of selling to the public is about expectations. There’s a lot of overhead in looking like the kind of business that people want to buy from. For awhile the internet looked different, all you needed to show the public was a professional looking website. But now you get respectability by paying 30% or more to the right middlemen.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.24.14 at 6:33 pm

Plume: “No more Marxism in exchange for no more capitalism, and we replace it with truly democratic, Green, egalitarian, socialist society.”

I’d be happy to take that deal. But really I don’t have any objection to people calling their mode of thought or analysis “Marxian”, if that’s what they want to do. In my experience, people who describe their ideas or what have you as Marxian have already taken the historical failures of Marxism seriously and decided to go on with what they find valuable in the tradition, while people holding on to “Marxist” are refusing to admit a connection that actually exists.

503

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 6:36 pm

I have a comment in moderation and I don’t have time to look for the bad keyword. [sigh]

504

LFC 12.24.14 at 6:37 pm

@Plume
Brett D’s main argument seems to be that colonies were not sources of great economic benefit to the colonizing powers, which assertion is prob. too broad since I think it partly depends on the particular colony and time period in question. But in any case it doesn’t necessarily have much to do w whether the colonies were ‘raped’ and mistreated: e.g., the Germans committed a quasi-genocide vs the Herrero (sp?) in then-SW Africa even though, afaik, the economic benefits to Germany of its colonies were fairly marginal. OTOH, for ex., Belgium’s rape of the Congo under Leopold II (as described in, e.g.. Hochschild’s ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’) did involve severe economic exploitation (rubber) as well as a lot of brutality. In short, blanket assertions here shd be avoided, as there was considerable variation in everything having to do w colonies and colonization.

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Plume 12.24.14 at 6:58 pm

Rich @501,

I’d be happy to take that deal. But really I don’t have any objection to people calling their mode of thought or analysis “Marxian”, if that’s what they want to do. In my experience, people who describe their ideas or what have you as Marxian have already taken the historical failures of Marxism seriously and decided to go on with what they find valuable in the tradition, while people holding on to “Marxist” are refusing to admit a connection that actually exists.

Glad to hear you’d take the deal. But I don’t see much difference between the words, and I use them interchangeably. Though, “Marxian” does seem to be used more often when the discussion turns to academic critique of capitalism. You hear of “Marxian economists” more often than “Marxist economists,” but I think that’s a semantic distinction without a difference. I don’t think one can draw the conclusions you’ve made from a two-letter difference. There are plenty of “Marxists,” for instance, who were and are anti-Stalin, and never saw themselves in that tradition. There are plenty of “Marxists” who teach that the USSR and China, Stalin and Mao, etc. etc. went completely against Marx’s actual writings — and they opposed them. Terry Eagleton, for instance, in his Why Marx was Right.

Anyway, I’m guessing this is what you have in mind:

Marxian economics, particularly in academia, is distinguished from Marxism as a political ideology as well as the normative aspects of Marxist thought, with the view that Marx’s original approach to understanding economics and economic development is intellectually independent from Marx’s own advocacy of revolutionary socialism.[2][3] Marxian economists do not lean entirely upon the works of Marx and other widely known Marxists, but draw from a range of Marxist and non-Marxist sources.[4]

Although the Marxian school is considered heterodox, ideas that have come out of Marxian economics have contributed to mainstream understanding of the global economy; certain concepts of Marxian economics, especially those related to capital accumulation and the business cycle, such as creative destruction, have been fitted for use in capitalist systems.

If that is the way one is defining the two words, I go with Marxian.

506

Plume 12.24.14 at 7:03 pm

LFC @503,

Many good points there. But, clearly there was a major economic rationale behind the colonies. We know they stripped the land bear of as many natural resources as the slaves could carry, and that they kept doing this after slavery was abolished and wage slaves were put in their place. All over the world, in every colony, especially if they were “people of color.”

I honestly thought that was all settled, mainstream history. I haven’t read something like Brett’s rose-colored take in any history book in more than thirty years.

507

geo 12.24.14 at 7:07 pm

Brett @498: The hypothesis that the UK became rich due to exploiting colonies

Ah, I see. No, this isn’t the hypothesis I was arguing. I agree with you and the estimable JQ that colonies and wars may not be particularly beneficial, and may even be a net loss, for an imperial power. I was suggesting something different: ie, that states don’t make individual policy decisions on the basis of net benefit or national interest (in fact, I think “national interest” is a convenient fiction) but instead respond, when there are differences among the corporate/financial/military elites, to the strongest pressures, which usually come from those among the elites who have the most to gain or lose from that policy decision.

(Yes, I recognize that this might seem circular — one can always explain a given decision in retrospect by simply declaring that the strongest pressures must have prevailed. Of course decisions have to be explained one by one. That’s probably why so many internal policy documents are classified for 50 years, until they’re only of interest to a few scholars. Or why the crucial pressures are often transmitted not in written documents but on the golf links or over drinks at the club. )

508

None 12.24.14 at 7:10 pm

Brett Dunbar @473 – “Britain subsidised the colonies not the other way round. India might have been profitable early on but certainly wasn’t later.”

India was never once subsidized by Britain, not early, not late, not ever. Administrative costs, the railways, british Indian army, the Queen jubilee, every single other thing, were all always paid out of Indian home revenues to the point where at times it absorbed the entire deficit of the empire.

BTW, where is this BS revisionism coming from, i’d be curious to read some of it ? It’s useful to know what exactly it is that one is refuting.

509

Plume 12.24.14 at 7:42 pm

Rich,

Quick refinement from above. If it helps curb any misunderstandings, I’m happy to switch to “Marxian.” No problem. But it was my understanding that the real dividing line was between “Marxists” and “Marxist-Leninists.” I’ve always opposed the latter camp in general and never agreed with them on methods, goals, rationale, etc.

But it not a big deal to me at all to update usage, if the real division is between Marxist and Marxian, Eagleton’s example notwithstanding . . . .

Geo @506,

Well said. National interest is a fiction. And, yes, I think you can validly say that the clamoring powers will push the government to do their bidding. The loudest complaint will change policy. In America’s history, even a single corporation can force covert or overt wars, coups, regime changes, etc. etc. This happened all too often in America’s back yard, especially — in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

510

engels 12.24.14 at 7:57 pm

people who describe their ideas or what have you as Marxian have already taken the historical failures of Marxism seriously and decided to go on with what they find valuable in the tradition, while people holding on to “Marxist” are refusing to admit a connection that actually exists

How ridiculous.

I don’t see much difference between the words, and I use them interchangeably

Iirc Marxian means ‘influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx’ whereas Marxist means lcoated within political tradition of Marxism but I could be wrong and don’t bother with this myself.

511

J Thomas 12.24.14 at 8:33 pm

#504 LFC

Brett D’s main argument seems to be that colonies were not sources of great economic benefit to the colonizing powers, which assertion is prob. too broad since I think it partly depends on the particular colony and time period in question.

Well, but some nations needed to sell industrial products and buy raw materials. Japan, for example — they didn’t have much in the way of raw materials themselves. Or consider Israel, for a while their main exports were oranges, plus they sold cut diamonds after they imported uncut diamonds. Now they sell advanced weapons after they import the steel and titanium etc.

It’s hard for a nation to stay independent if it can’t produce its own weapons. But this is heavy industry, and if they’re going to have their own they don’t want to import competing products. Again consider Japan. They had to be a military power if they weren’t going to be somebody’s colony, and they had to control the raw materials their military needed — iron from Manchuria, oil from Indonesia, tin from Thailand, rubber from Malaya, etc. They had to hold those places or somebody else would get control of them and deny war materials to Japan.

It hardly matters whether they would get more profit selling to somebody else. They had to have their colonies or else be a colony.

Somehow some capitalists have argued that none of that matters. Just sell whatever you can to whoever will buy it, and your wealth will be maximized. Like they don’t care whether they’re on the losing side of wars.

Science made a big difference to that. When the USA couldn’t get enough rubber because the Japanese wouldn’t sell to us, we found ways to make synthetic rubber. When Germany couldn’t get enough oil they made some synthetic oil. Etc.

512

Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 9:04 pm

The subsidising of colonies happened more in relation to the African colonies than India, India usually funded its defence and administration from its own revenues, I don’t think it always did so. Many of the other colonies could not fund themselves, the colonial administration was paid for from London.

China, India and Brazil are all classified as middle income countries by the world bank. India is lower middle income while Brazil and China are upper middle income. Bangladesh is also lower middle income as are Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

Democratic Republic of Congo is a poor country. It has a lot of mineral wealth and mining companies are prepared to operate there despite the political instability and chaos. They have to mine the minerals where the minerals are. Otherwise they want nothing to do with the place, so the processing is done somewhere a bit better run. The ore is Coltran which is an ore of Tantalum used ion the manufacture of mobile phones.

Geo the argument I originally made was that exploiting colonies was not the source of Britain’s wealth, which you seem actually to agree with.

Plume is displaying a rather serious problem the far left have, assuming everything has an economic motivation this results in some implausible to ridiculous suggestions. E.g. that Britain had an economic motive for entering the First World War, for example Rob Newman suggested something about the building of the Berlin-Baghdad railway. Both Cabinet papers and Asquith’s letters to Venetia Stanley (incredibly indiscreet and contemporaneous some were even written during cabinet meeting) show pretty conclusively that the key was Lloyd George deciding to support war and his decision was due to Germany’s unprovoked invasion of Belgium.

Wars don’t start for economic motivations that often. They are too risky and too expensive, the cost rapidly exceeds any possible benefit.

513

Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 9:36 pm

Japan only found itself in a position where its access to oil and other war materials was being restricted because it was engaged in an unusually brutal war of conquest in China. The democracies, led by the USA, wanted to stop Japan committing genocide and imposed sanctions in order to do so. The main effect was that the USA banned US owned oil tankers from trading with Japan as essentially all of the big tankers were US owned that pretty much cut Japan off from oil.

Japan was a significant trading partner, a great power by any standard, far too powerful to be the target of military attack and had a pretty strong military reputation. Italy would be a softer target, it had a similar size economy and a reputation for military incompetence.

Japan was probably obviously too strong to attack by the time of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-5) and was certainly too strong by the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). Only Britain or the USA had both a navy strong enough and bases close enough to attack Japan and neither were interested.

As a colonial power Japan was unusually brutal. In Burma, probably the worst run of Britain’s colonies. It’s where we dumped incompetent obnoxious racists too well-connected to sack. We were despised by everyone except a few favoured mountain tribes, and the Burmese welcomed the Japanese invasion, at first. After a month of Japanese rule they decided that the British weren’t all that bad after all.

514

None 12.24.14 at 10:35 pm

Brett Dunbar@511 – “India usually funded its defence and administration from its own revenues, I don’t think it always did so.”

“You don’t think” it did so ? Say no more, I’m convinced.
Not.

515

Bruce Wilder 12.24.14 at 10:44 pm

Mattski @460:

Bruce, bless your soul, but for all you complain about ‘hand waving’ you are the undisputed King of hand waiving here at CT. At 457 you reiterate your stock peeves without grappling in any substantive way with my query. Clearly (I want to say CLEARLY) domination and hierarchy have been with us well before anything commonly recognized as capitalism came on the scene. Did you account for this? Slavery, war, institutionalized cruelty of every imaginable sort have been with us l-o-n-g before capitalism. Is this controversial??

This is called talking past each other. Maybe, it’s my fault for writing in a particular epigrammatic style. J Thomas @ 462 seemed to get what I was saying clearly enough.

I don’t know why you would think I was unmindful of domination and hierarchy in history. I have a couple of long-winded comments back at 265, 266, where I waved my hand over 7500 years!

There’s an ideological apology for capitalism that portrays the capitalist institutional order as one defined by voluntary market exchange. It seems to me that mattski affirmed that apology in a comment @ 380:

I’m saying, and I’ve said it many times before, there isn’t anything immoral about people being free to conduct trade. On the contrary, it would be immoral and ridiculous for the community to tell an individual that he/she is NOT free to engage in commerce.

Marx, as I understand it, challenged this apology on its own terms, by pointing out that the capitalist institutional order was founded on an appropriation of the means of production, which, in the classical framework of Smith and Ricardo, resulted in a diversion of resources into “rent”, an unearned income. Under capitalism, the community — or its ruling elite, at least — did effectively tell individuals that they were not free to engage in commerce, or only free to engage on certain, disadvantageous terms: wages for labor and the whole system immiserating the wage laborer.

I’m not endorsing the Marxist view, but I think it has merit enough to be heard. In general, I am saying that to respectfully hear any number of criticisms of the capitalist institutional order, and make sense of them, we have to cast aside these diversions into the cul de sac of primarily “market” relations.

The large-scale, bureaucratic business corporation, financed by a marketable stock, is a capitalist institution, a distinctive and novel instrument of hierarchical domination. Weber said as much, and I believe him. And, many of the most urgent criticisms of the existing political economy concern business corporations and their power. Why divert discussion of those criticisms — of the way CEO pay has driven increasing inequality for example, or the role of multinationals in subverting national foreign policies — into the never-never land of a market economy that doesn’t exist?

516

LFC 12.24.14 at 11:43 pm

J Thomas @510
Bracketing the specific assertions you make about e.g. Japan (which I can’t take the time to think about properly and address), it seems to me you are not really disagreeing with what I wrote. What I wrote, in essence, was that some colonies probably provided some economic benefits at some times to some colonizing powers; other colonies didn’t. There were range of motives for colonialism/imperialism, which was a variegated phenomenon and thus is resistant to broad, sweeping assertions to the effect that “all colonies X” or “all colonies Y.”

517

Brett Dunbar 12.24.14 at 11:59 pm

It’s very unlikely that India did so in 1857 for example. India financed the Indian Army (recruited in India) but didn’t finance the the British Army in India (units of the British Army deployed in India). The India office was a ministry of the UK government and the expenditure in London was funded from the UKs revenue, while revenue raised in India was spent there. Elements of the Indian army were deployed in other parts of the empire so the net effect is that India was pretty much self-financing.

518

LFC 12.25.14 at 12:01 am

correction to 515:
“there were range of motives” s/b “there was a range of motives”

519

J Thomas 12.25.14 at 12:40 am

#516 LFC

What I wrote, in essence, was that some colonies probably provided some economic benefits at some times to some colonizing powers; other colonies didn’t. There were range of motives for colonialism/imperialism, which was a variegated phenomenon and thus is resistant to broad, sweeping assertions to the effect that “all colonies X” or “all colonies Y.”

I certainly agree with that.

But notice that the doctrine of mercantilism had been attacked by Adam Smith but was still actively believed by lots of people throughout the nineteenth century. Colonies tended to be places where mercantilism was enforced. You buy their raw materials and sell them finished goods.

Those attitudes were implicitly kept for a very long time. Like, Brazil exported high-quality iron ore and imported steel. They wanted to make their own steel. They made plans with the USA to do it, since they would be supplying the US WWII war effort, but the US wound up dropping it and the Brazilian government built their own. By the 1960’s they were making more than 12% of their own steel. They wanted to have modern productive steel mills but nobody would sell them the new technology. Finally Germany sold them a 2 million ton plant when they wanted a 5 million ton plant. By the 1980s they were producing more than 40% of their own steel. As the US and other steel industries collapsed they expanded, and now close to half of their steel is exported, mostly to China. Why did other nations try to stop them? I think maybe they wanted to protect their own steel industries, in opposition to Adam Smith and Ricardo and all mainstream economists. In practice, people take whatever they want from capitalist theory and mix it with mercantilist theory and Austrian theory and libertarian theory and Keynesian theory and just use whatever they feel like to argue in favor of whatever they already want to happen.

520

Anarcissie 12.25.14 at 5:40 am

Bernard Yomtov 12.24.14 at 4:28 pm @ 487 — The value of a Welfare State for capitalists is fundamentally different from the value of one for socialists. For the former, it’s a good idea if it quiesces the workers and keeps them uninterested in socialist or other anti-capitalist agitation. If some of the workers resent Welfare, it can also be used as a divide-and-rule instrument. The large bureaucracy and intrusive government required can be turned to other purposes, like war, surveillance, and direct control, should the need arise.

Hopefully socialists who arranged a Welfare state would have other aims.

The fact that so many people can no longer tell the difference between socialism and social democracy / Welfare statism indicates that the Bismarckian strategem has not only succeeded in stabilizing the power of the capitalist ruling class, it has made alternatives generally unthinkable and unspeakable.

521

Brett Dunbar 12.25.14 at 9:50 am

@519

The welfare state deals with some of capitalism’s problems without ditching the system. Attempts to ditch the system have led to command economies which have which just don’t work very well.

One method of dealing with some of capitalism’s other problems, specifically the tendency to concentrate ownership Marx observed in early Capitalism, are the joint stock limited liability company. The UK started making it easy, quick and cheap to register them from the 1860s, replacing the previous system where each need a specific Royal Charter. The result was that over time the ownership of many corporations became much broader, In the modern UK a very large majority of the working population are shareholders, mostly via institutional investors such as pension funds. That wasn’t really the intent at the time, that was more about having continuity in contracts and avoiding the problems that occurred when a sole proprietor or one of a small number of partners died (making setting up a joint-stock company easy for the first time since the Bubble Ac 1720). A few years later parliament made obtaining limited liability easy; now when buying shares in a company you could stood to lose only that specific investment and not all your worldly goods (avoiding the problem that joint and several liability created for small scale investment). This made small investment on the side much easier. Various reforms to accounting and auditing laws made company administration far clearer gradually broadening the base of company ownership making a lot of middle and working class people into petty capitalists. This make support for revolution less likely, you aren’t going to favour appropriation of your pension by the state.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.25.14 at 10:39 am

“The welfare state deals with some of capitalism’s problems without ditching the system. Attempts to ditch the system have led to command economies which have which just don’t work very well.”

Note that that was comment 520.

I know a dead thread when I see one.

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Brett Bellmore 12.25.14 at 11:49 am

“In practice, people take whatever they want from capitalist theory and mix it with mercantilist theory and Austrian theory and libertarian theory and Keynesian theory and just use whatever they feel like to argue in favor of whatever they already want to happen.”

In a sense, capitalist theory is kind of like your doctor’s advice: Eat less, but healthy food, and exercise. But people still over-eat, and veg out on the couch. Capitalist theory has a lot to say about how to have a healthy economy, but none of it is fun: Let corporations fail, don’t subsidize industries, don’t raise barriers to entry in return for money under the table from lobbyists.

The brain knows what is good for the body, but the fat is lobbying for more calories, and watching TV releases nice endorphins. Government, too, on some level knows what’s good for the economy, but all the short term rewards are all for doing something else. So they rationalize continual deficits, debasing the currency, no repay loans to cronies, and so on, and economists, mostly paid by the government, and very good at noticing their own bottom line, manufacture suitable rationales for all of it.

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J Thomas 12.25.14 at 2:10 pm

In a sense, capitalist theory is kind of like your doctor’s advice: Eat less, but healthy food, and exercise. But people still over-eat, and veg out on the couch. Capitalist theory has a lot to say about how to have a healthy economy, but none of it is fun: Let corporations fail, don’t subsidize industries, don’t raise barriers to entry in return for money under the table from lobbyists.

Kind of. But also capitalism says the whole point of the exercise is to get you what you want. So you work hard so capitalists can sell you a nice couch to veg out on, and a nice TV to play while you’re vegging out on the couch. They will sell you all the greasy sugary bad food you want. They will give you candy that you can pay for later, up to the point they believe you can maintain the payments indefinitely. They will sell you a club membership so that whenever you feel like it you can drive your 2-ton SUV to the health club to exercise. While you are there you can buy health bars which are much better for you than regular candy bars. They have real sugar instead of HFCS, and vitamins, and protein from soybeans or peanuts. You can buy soft drinks with vitamins too.

I think part of the reason recreational drugs are illegal is that employers don’t want you showing up for work Monday morning still affected. But coffee is legal because it helps keep you awake at work when you might otherwise fall asleep. Often employers give free coffee to their employees.

Capitalists are happy to sell the world’s most expensive warplanes to the government. “Fast, cheap, good. Pick one. You want good? Great, we can do good!”

There is a much bigger market for stuff people want, than there is for capitalist theory. It’s mostly people who like capitalist theory who want it. Capitalist theory says if you can’t buy something in a market then you don’t deserve to have it. Tax people to build a road or a bridge? It will be done inefficiently. Better to let capitalists build as many toll bridges as they want and people can freely choose which bridge to pay toll on. Capitalism will provide a way for you to get across the river if it’s worth it, otherwise you don’t deserve to go.

Capitalism is the most efficient way to achieve capitalism’s goals. If you don’t share capitalism’s goals then you’re some kind of a commie and you don’t deserve to get what you want anyway.

Government, too, on some level knows what’s good for the economy, but all the short term rewards are all for doing something else. So they rationalize continual deficits,

Continual deficits appear to increase production. A lot of people have money they don’t want to spend, so production stays low waiting for them. Deficits provide one silly way to let people have jobs and buy stuff. It’s bad for people who already have money and want to spend it on the same sorts of things that people buy who would otherwise do without. They could have gotten their stuff cheaper.

debasing the currency,

That’s bad for people who have money they aren’t using. It’s good for people with debts. If it’s too fast then it’s bad for people who try to plan. It’s good for people who want the economy to grow, because people who otherwise would store their money have an incentive to invest in something productive.

no repay loans to cronies,

That’s good for the cronies and bad for the cronies’ competitors. Or if they just spend the money, it’s bad for people who compete with them to buy stuff that doesn’t respond well to increased demand.

and so on, and economists, mostly paid by the government, and very good at noticing their own bottom line, manufacture suitable rationales for all of it.

Economists like to imagine they know what’s good for the economy as a whole, but I think they mostly don’t. Lots of people think they know what’s good for them personally, and probably they don’t, at least in the long run.

But then, you don’t need to bother with the long run or the big picture. If you do no maintenance on your home, and later you try to sell it, people will notice. The roof needs to be replaced, the furnace needs to be replaced, etc, you won’t get a good price. But if you find ways to cut corners with your corporation, do things that increase sales now but you’ll pay for later, create lots of pollution, suck money out in hidden ways, etc, then if you’re skillful you can get a lot of cash and retire to the Bahamas, leaving behind the poisoned air water and land, the disappointed employees and customers and new owners. It’s all somebody else’s problem once you are sipping your alcohol on the beach.

A major part of capitalism in practice involves figuring out how to avoid long-term problems. Make sure somebody else has to pay for them, and you can relax. After all, in the long run you’re dead.

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Bernard Yomtov 12.25.14 at 4:40 pm

Anarcissie @519,

So your point is that capitalists are evil and socilaists are saintly, to the point that even if if they institute identical programs you despise the capitalist version for what you imagine to be its motives? Well, I’m a capitalist, and I favor social welfare programs, and not out of a desire to keep the mob from my door. I actually know others who agree.

The large bureaucracy and intrusive government required can be turned to other purposes, like war, surveillance, and direct control, should the need arise.

This is laughable. Do you seriously imagine that socialist economies don’t have large bureaucracies and intrusive government? How can an economy be centrally controlled otherwise?

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Anarcissie 12.25.14 at 5:53 pm

Brett Dunbar 12.25.14 at 9:50 am @ 520:
‘ @519
The welfare state deals with some of capitalism’s problems without ditching the system. Attempts to ditch the system have led to command economies which have which just don’t work very well. …’

There is a whole lot of command-economy behavior in actually-existing capitalist polities, and the alternatives to capitalism (as we know it) are not confined to command economies.

As for ditching the system, what large community, once within the system, has managed to ditch it since the 1930s? So far it’s been a miracle of social control.

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Anarcissie 12.25.14 at 6:08 pm

Bernard Yomtov 12.25.14 at 4:40 pm

‘Anarcissie @519,
So your point is that capitalists are evil and socilaists are saintly….’

Oh, come on. This is supposed to be a discussion for grown-ups.

Socialism is (in my definition) the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers. As far as I know there are no socialist states in the world. The largest socialist entities are cooperatives whose membership may be in the tens of thousands, embedded in capitalist polities which govern much of their behavior. If, by some chance, some large community came to be predominantly organized into socialist entities like communes or cooperatives, there does not seem to be any requirement that they be subjected to ‘central control’, unless, of course, they were attacked militarily, which would be a significant possibility given the imperial history of liberalism (still being enacted). Maybe they would choose some sort of highly integrated, centralized mode of interaction and governance, but maybe not. I don’t see the necessity.

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mattski 12.25.14 at 6:52 pm

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone.

bianca,

May you someday have coworkers who think cooperating with and respecting others, especially of lower or equal status, amounts to socialism.

Can you explain this to me? I don’t understand what you’re saying. If it saves time, let me just put it out there now: “respecting others” is perfectly consistent with market economics, just as institutionalized socialism (I don’t know your preferred definition, but let’s go with Anarcissie’s & engels for the sake of argument) cannot possibly guarantee “respecting others.”

I’m kind of big believer in respect for others. But cogent arguments are available to capitalists and socialists (apply scare quotes as necessary) alike that their systems allow for greater mutual respect than the others.

As always, we get back to the socialism/capitalism of theory vs practice. A problem for capitalism is that, as practiced, there is a lot of abuse and disrespect. A problem for socialism is that, as practiced, there virtually isn’t any, at least of the theoretical sort.

But as far as the socialism of real world experience, what some here see as watered-down compromise, AFAICS, a) it tends to work quite well, b) it tends to promote respectful attitudes society-wide and c) it leaves room private enterprise, which quite a few people think of as a social good.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.25.14 at 7:10 pm

Anarcissie: “Socialism is (in my definition) the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers. As far as I know there are no socialist states in the world.”

Well, hold on. The People’s Republic of China is one of the largest states in the world, either by population or by economic measures, and it has a “socialist market economy”. I know that among Marxist apologists it’s fashionable to dismiss this as state capitalism, but from an anarchist point of view the Chinese state owns the commanding heights of the economy in the name of the workers just as much, or just as little, as has happened in an socialist state. The question of whether “workers” put in charge of the apparatus of a state remain workers or speak for workers in any meaningful sense was one that Bakunin wrote adequately on. If the PRC isn’t a socialist state, then there are no socialist states, but perhaps this really implies that it’s impossible to have meaningful socialism within a state.

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bianca steele 12.25.14 at 7:24 pm

mattski,

My comment is very simple. You used a non-standard definition of the word socialism, insisting that you liked socialism under your own definition. I pointed out that someone who used your definition while disliking socialism would be rejecting a lot of things which most of us think are perfectly compatible with capitalism.

We do live under capitalism, after all, and some of us (regardless of our political inclinations) would prefer not to have to accept the assumption that these perfectly innocuous behaviors are “socialistic,” because we tend to foresee that the definition is going to be used to forbid previously innocuous behaviors, on the grounds that they’re “socialism.” For example, sharing information with people perceived as lower status, or accepting their contributions and suggestions and acknowledging them once made; or considering all kinds of federally frowned-upon categories as valid for determining status; or equating federal law itself with “socialism.”

A problem for capitalism is that, as practiced, there is a lot of abuse and disrespect. A problem for socialism is that, as practiced, there virtually isn’t any, at least of the theoretical sort.

That you can say that there isn’t any socialism after having defined socialism so broadly supports my point. Of course, it’s possible you’ve redefined all the words in that paragraph as you’ve done “socialism.”

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Brett Dunbar 12.25.14 at 8:08 pm

North Korea, China, Vietnam much of central Europe, Cuba and many other states have attempted to implement socialism since 1930, I’m not sure why that cut off is important it excludes the USSR for no obvious reason. All ended up with command economies which ended up not working very well. Most have since reverted to capitalism. North Korea remains a command economy and is a hell-hole. Every attempt to impose a socialist economy seems end up as either being abandoned and a market economy continuing. Socialist economies as Marx fantasised don’t appear to actually be a thing that can exist. It simply lacks the incentives to get people to do what is needed, it loses the signalling mechanism that leads to market efficiency.

“State capitalism” is a frankly ridiculous description it is only used about economies that are not capitalist, as they lack free markets which are an essential element of capitalism. Stalinist USSR or Maoist China were straightforward command economies and in way capitalist. Capitalism is simply being used as a snarl word.

Command economies only work either for very short periods, a war economy for example, where they only like pricing signals for fairly short periods. Or in a situation of near stasis with a very simple economy, the Inca empire for example, that is of purely historical interest,the world isn’t like that any more.

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Bernard Yomtov 12.25.14 at 9:32 pm

Anarcissie,

The value of a Welfare State for capitalists is fundamentally different from the value of one for socialists. For the former, it’s a good idea if it quiesces the workers and keeps them uninterested in socialist or other anti-capitalist agitation. If some of the workers resent Welfare, it can also be used as a divide-and-rule instrument. The large bureaucracy and intrusive government required can be turned to other purposes, like war, surveillance, and direct control, should the need arise.

Hopefully socialists who arranged a Welfare state would have other aims.

A discussion for adults? Then maybe you could explain why the above does not suggest socialists are ever so much more virtuous than capitalists, even if they do the same thing.

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Ze Kraggash 12.25.14 at 10:12 pm

There is socialism and social-ism, AKA third-wayism.

The latter could be characterized as ‘capitalism with a human face’. It appears to be an acting role in the electoral theater. The comedy (or drama, if you prefer) has two actors fiercely antagonistic to each other, one a little bit to the left of the other. This setup allows the politics to fluctuate, to the right when it can and to the left when it must.

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mattski 12.25.14 at 10:26 pm

That you can say that there isn’t any socialism after having defined socialism so broadly supports my point. Of course, it’s possible you’ve redefined all the words in that paragraph as you’ve done “socialism.”

:-(

I thought I made a reasonably clear distinction between different uses of the word socialism. Of pure, theoretical socialism (means of production owned collectively by the citizenry) there is virtually none. Of practical socialistic forms (which I am happy to call socialism although many here don’t agree) there is a lot we can point to. Not only point to, but feel good about.

I pointed out that someone who used your definition while disliking socialism would be rejecting a lot of things which most of us think are perfectly compatible with capitalism.

Do you mean someone like Brett Bellmore rejecting Obamacare, or single-payer? If so, I don’t see my terminology affecting their positions one way or another. Not sure what you’re objecting to.

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mattski 12.25.14 at 10:42 pm

**Addendum: There are many people in America (I wouldn’t consider them terribly sophisticated) who spout phrases like, “Taxes are theft!” For these people the first dollar of taxation is SOCIALISM. I’m willing to grant them that because philosophically it’s a fairly consistent way of looking at things. When government takes money from citizens and spends it on public goods–seems to me–you can reasonably call this socialism. Of course, depending on which public goods get funded, it will look more or less like socialism to different types of people. Generally speaking military spending doesn’t rouse howls of protest from the right! But take that same tax money and spend it on health care for all and the perception becomes quite different.

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bob mcmanus 12.25.14 at 10:43 pm

As a whatever I am, I generally don’t worry about what ideologues and utopians call things. I am interested in say how Meiji built their railroads and textile industry (or the Shinkansen), and I read the experts to fill me in on details, and I think about how it did or did not work, and don’t sweat whether it was capitalism or socialism or whether it was impossible because state planning is impossible and eveeeel. Currently looking at TVE’s (town and village enterprises) in China. (I skipped the whole Red Plenty seminar because of the either-or and proved by science atmosphere)

The meta-arguments are not directly useful, and are not the Marxisms I concentrate on, which are usually concrete, localized and specific to time and place, and above all historical. Marxism is first of all a toolbox for analysis to be constantly sharpened and added to, best applied on the ground to try to nudge a mountain of politics, improve worker’s lives in a specific time and place (like Barcelona or Athens now) and occasionally to surf a tsunami of revolution.

Part of the argument of historical materialism is about how much agency we have. I look at Louis Napoleon, Lenin and Mao on the ground and I say not as much as the methodological individualists like to claim. I didn’t choose capitalism, I can’t choose socialism, these choices are forced on us by history and society and material circumstances, partly by collectives of millions of people and maybe a dozen more close. Lenin was kinda stuck with Trotsky and Stalin and had to work with them.

History makes us far more than we make it, and society makes us far more than we make it. I have few moral arguments about historical events I am sentimentally attached to, I don’t think choosing Danton over Robespierre makes me a good person. I really can’t why I should bother.

What are we doing here, designing and implementing a better society? Not hardly, we are nothing, we follow the crowd or run away. The first step toward liberation is admitting that my analysis or daily moral choices didn’t create my world, a whole lot of other people got a vote.

There is a Romanticism to Marxism, but it is more submission to the sublime than Napoleonic egoism. The kid with the placard outside the factory isn’t leading and he knows it. He serves, a little, and waits. He knows he ain’t a hero like Norma Ray. That’s capitalist propaganda.

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Anarcissie 12.25.14 at 10:58 pm

Bernard Yomtov 12.25.14 at 9:32 pm @ 530 — What I wrote was not about virtue, it was about people acting in pursuit of their perceived interests, which is what they usually do. Rich people don’t need Welfare, and if they want to feel virtuous they can give to charity. Therefore, their interests in Welfare probably lie elsewhere — in, for instance, social stability and decent appearances, which are of advantage to them. In a more egalitarian, socialistic society, where most people were living approximately at the middle working-class level, and they were not subject to a ruling class consisting of rich people, they might see some personal interest in some kind of state social insurance for themselves, their relatives, and their neighbors, in case their coop went down the tubes. Or not — who knows? I’m just guessing. If you now will reexamine #519, you will probably see that I was not on about anyone’s virtue, but about their interests and connected behaviors.

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Anarcissie 12.25.14 at 11:14 pm

Brett Dunbar 12.25.14 at 8:08 pm @ 529 — You wrote, ‘ditching the capitalist system.’ In order to ditch the capitalist system, the state in question must have been already capitalist, which excludes China and Russia, and must not have been compelled into some other system by external forces or in reaction to external forces like colonialism, for example the Soviet satellites, Korea, Indochina and Cuba. So the most recent examples I could think of were the European states which went over to fascism in the 1930s — I don’t regard fascism as a form of liberal capitalism. I suppose one could argue about some of the military coups in South America.

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engels 12.26.14 at 12:20 am

When government takes money from citizens and spends it on public goods–seems to me–you can reasonably call this socialism.

I re-iterate: this is completely nuts.

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mattski 12.26.14 at 12:27 am

I re-iterate: this is completely nuts.

Is it completely nuts to say that single-payer health care is socialism, or socialistic? Is it completely nuts to refer to welfare programs in a similar manner?

If the only acceptable usage is your usage would you concede that your “socialism” doesn’t exist in the real world?

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engels 12.26.14 at 1:11 am

‘When government takes money from citizens and spends it on public goods–seems to me–you can reasonably call this socialism.’

I re-iterate: this is completely nuts.

‘Is it completely nuts to say that single-payer health care is socialism or socialistic

It’s completely nuts to say that the government building roads or underwriting the court system is ‘socialism’ (which your generalisation implies, among other things). Single-payer healthcare isn’t ‘socialism’ either. Only Americans talk like this ime.

If the only acceptable usage is your usage would you concede that your “socialism” doesn’t exist in the real world?

Steven Johnson wrote a bit about this above- I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said. No socialist states exist at present but some states made advances towards it at times in the past (perhaps Russia in the 1920s). Smaller-scale institutions within capitalist states might be ‘socialistic’ to a degree, in that they point the way towards socialism, but that doesn’t make them ‘compatible’ with capitalism because in so far as they are their existence threatens and is threatened by capitalism. Merely being funded by taxation doesn’t qualify, not by a long way.

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Brett Dunbar 12.26.14 at 1:44 am

So basically you are arguing that no one has attempted to introduce socialism by excluding every case where introducing socialism has been attempted due to there being some external influence, that gives you to find an excuse to exclude every country as politics doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

You can make comparisons between the performance of market economies and command economies; market economies massively out perform command economies, no one is going to look at relative performance of East and West Germany and choose to copy East Germany ‘s economic policy. The socialist economy is a chimera, it’s millenarianist wish fulfilment not something that can actually exist. What you actually get is a command economy and that simply doesn’t work as well as a free market.

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engels 12.26.14 at 1:59 am

The socialist economy is a chimera, it’s millenarianist wish fulfilment not something that can actually exist.

You’re entitled to your opinion, of course, but if you’re only argument for ‘X can not exist’ is ‘X has never existed before’ then it’s not founded on anything other than faith.

What you actually get is a command economy and that simply doesn’t work as well as a free market.

Ohhhhhhhhhh rilly?

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Peter T 12.26.14 at 2:12 am

Brett Dunbar @516 is misinformed. The costs of the British Army in India (and the costs of British administrators and the India Office) were charges on the Indian budget, not the British one (one good source is John Darwin: The Empire Project). When one also considers that India was de-industrialised to favour British exports to it, largely paid the costs of the east African and east Asian parts of the empire and also paid for an army that bolstered British power globally, one can see why it was the “jewel in the crown”.

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bob mcmanus 12.26.14 at 2:13 am

546

js. 12.26.14 at 2:17 am

@Peter T: Thanks. I’d been wanting to say similar, but couldn’t bring myself to bother with Wrong Person on the Internet.

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Peter T 12.26.14 at 2:58 am

The current standard package in developed countries: pensions, unemployment benefit, workforce protections, extensive state control, secret ballots, universal right to vote and so on, were all “socialism” in Marx’s time. As an ex-Soviet friend of mine said” “I was brought up believing that we were building socialism and then I came here [Australia] and found you’d already built it.”

The variations in the Soviet Union, China and so on had and have their problems, but they also had their significant strengths and achievements. The great issue in Marx’s time was whether and on what terms to bring the working classes into the political nation. While this is still a live issue, particularly in the US (where inclusion was somewhat less than comprehensive in the first place and seems to now to be being unwound) it is no longer the touchstone of politics.

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None 12.26.14 at 3:49 am

Peter T@516 – “The costs of the British Army in India (and the costs of British administrators and the India Office)”

Great minds think alike, I actually half-typed a very similar response, including even the suggestion that he start with John Darwin and take it from there – but it was deep into christmas eve and the drugs and booze were beginning to kick in. Besides, it’s obvious that Brett Dunbar is a bullshit artist who’s making stuff up as he goes along, I’m still waiting for a single concrete cite from him. For instance , he doesn’t seem to know that a posting to the British Indian army was far more desirable, albeit less prestigious, because the salaries were significantly greater – hence the various “service in india old chap nabobs” that you see proliferating in victorian fiction eg, “The Sign of Four”. Significantly larger number of British Indian troops served in various far flung theatres of war that there were ever British Army troops posted to India. There is a very good reason why the Brits can no longer do force projection on any significant scale.

Brett Dunbar @516 – “It’s very unlikely that India did so in 1857 for example.”

LOL, so the Indians were unwilling to finance the fight against the mutiny, were they ? Well, actually & counter-intuitively, they were. A good deal of monies were raised from the Punjab and Sindh – the erstwhile sikh empire – and other regions which were unsympathetic to the mutineers, the marathas and the rump of the mughals.
Other than all this your comment is 100 % correct.

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Anarcissie 12.26.14 at 4:06 am

Brett Dunbar 12.26.14 at 1:44 am @ 542 — I’ve excluded cases where the polity preceding the command economy was not what I would call capitalism. In the 1920s and ’30s, some capitalist European states, like Germany and Italy, abandoned liberal capitalism and turned to fascism. Those are the most recent cases I know of, unless one wants to characterize certain Latin American states as having been capitalist and also turning to fascism; as we know, that sort of thing happened more recently there, but the cases are less clear.

The notion of ‘work’ or ‘perform’ as in ‘a command economy … simply doesn’t work as well as a free market’ conceals a notion of value: to ‘work’ or to ‘perform’ in this sense means ‘to do what I want it to do.’ But different people want different things at different times. Some people live on communes and are very happy with communist life, whereas other people would prefer to live on the trading floor of the stock market, or in a war zone, or in a classroom, or whatever. In capitalist arrangements, the economy can be said to ‘work’ if it increases the power and wealth of a capitalist ruling class, even if it destroys the social and physical environment and leads to a decline in the material living standards of 80% of the population, as is said to be currently true of the US.

In any case, ‘command economy’ does not equal ‘socialism’ nor does ‘free market’ equal capitalism. And once again I must note that there is no such thing as a free market in the sort of absolute sense in which this term is thrown around.

I regret that some of my interlocutors insist on conflating socialism with Welfare; now we have no way of denoting ‘the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers’ which is radically different from Welfare.

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Charles Peterson 12.26.14 at 9:10 am

Steve Keen (in Debunking Economics) has a lot of good things to say about Marx’s economics–but mainly once shorn of the Labor Theory of Value–which he sees as a very flawed anachronism shared by Smith and Ricardo. The remaining concepts in Marx’s economics such as the duality of values (exchange-value vs use-value) he describes as the pinnacle of Classical Economics, and that he had a better capital theory than the others. Evidence suggests Marx himself was looking beyond the Labor Theory of Value, but it remains a core of Marxism post Marx because it makes capitalist exploitation axiomatic. But you can show exploitation without it, and better not being axiomatic.

Somewhere (perhaps website some time ago, I can’t seem to find it in the book right now) Keen (or was it Quiggen?) discussed how Marx was unique among the classical economics in understanding the motivation of capitalists. Others saw the accumulation of wealth as something like deferred utility. No of course the richest of capitalists seek greater wealth and power as reward in themselves, and that’s the basic need that keeps the whole rotten system going. An engine based on empowering sociopathy.

Marx also did well in describing bankers as the roving cavaliers of finance, and that was typical of his ability to see and describe things as they are, rather than how the rich and powerful would like them seen.

I see Marx as not perfect, but one of the smartest people of all time, and best writers, who was both keen observer and journalist–and a leading philosopher and theorist of all time, and then also a leading (if flawed) activist of his time, sadly sidelined in much of the serious world of thinking because of his deep and real concern for others than those on top, and then later smeared by fascist regimes that mainly used his ideas as cover, discarding the essence of the universal freedom he promoted.

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Ze Kraggash 12.26.14 at 10:47 am

@546 “As an ex-Soviet friend of mine said” “I was brought up believing that we were building socialism and then I came here [Australia] and found you’d already built it.””

Funny, Nikita Khrushchev wrote something very similar in his diary after visiting Sweden. Something like: ‘damn, they have all we have dreamed about, and they achieved it without any blood and gore.’

Sweden is indeed a mixed economy – and curiously with a good deal of corporatism (a form of nationalism/fascism) mixed in. Of course what they built is not socialism, but a decent standard of living and safety net for their middle class. Nice – if you’re a member of that club, that is.

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stevenjohnson 12.26.14 at 2:10 pm

“Funny, Nikita Khrushchev wrote something very similar in his diary after visiting Sweden. Something like: ‘damn, they have all we have dreamed about, and they achieved it without any blood and gore.’”

Swedish trade with Nazi Germany during WWII was part of how they “achieved” the Swedish welfare state. For some reason I think that means that Nazi blood and gore had something to do with Swedish achievements.

Selective sampling is like lying no matter who does it.

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mattski 12.26.14 at 2:42 pm

engels,

Smaller-scale institutions within capitalist states might be ‘socialistic’ to a degree, in that they point the way towards socialism, but that doesn’t make them ‘compatible’ with capitalism because in so far as they are their existence threatens and is threatened by capitalism.

From my perspective you are clinging to an ideal which a) doesn’t exist and b) probably cannot exist, at least in any enduring sense. This causes you to belittle actually existing institutions which do very much good in the world. And note Peter T @ 546.

Single-payer health care does not threaten a market economy. QED.

Anarcissie,

I regret that some of my interlocutors insist on conflating socialism with Welfare; now we have no way of denoting ‘the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers’ which is radically different from Welfare.

You can use ‘socialism’ to mean whatever you want. Just explain what you mean by the word. No problem. Also, what about the word ‘communism’? Why won’t that work for you?

A fundamental problem could be–I think it is–that your ideal is unworkable. This helps explain why we don’t see it!

As I mentioned way upthread, what happens when businesses compete for workers? They try to make their company a more attractive place to work. It begins also to dawn on them that happy people are more productive than unhappy people. Do you see the beginnings of a virtuous cycle here?

Let’s focus on tweaking the market in this direction. Let’s get out of the realm of theory and step into the world we live in.

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bianca steele 12.26.14 at 3:40 pm

The current standard package in developed countries: pensions, unemployment benefit, workforce protections, extensive state control, secret ballots, universal right to vote and so on, were all “socialism” in Marx’s time.

This is not true. Well before Marx’s death, there were countries in Europe that had parts of that package, and non-socialist parties in other countries that promoted it, and none of them was “socialist.” All–not least those countries that had more of the package than others did–were opposed by Marx and so-named socialists.

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Rich Puchalsky 12.26.14 at 3:42 pm

“Charles Peterson: “then later smeared by fascist regimes that mainly used his ideas as cover”

So Communism is fascist now? Why not just save time and call the regimes you don’t like doubleplusungood without bothering with this incoherent pseudo-classification. I don’t understand why people are getting on mattski’s case when he says (incorrectly) that single payer health insurance = socialism when they can’t apply or use the standard definition of socialism either.

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engels 12.26.14 at 4:13 pm

‘you…belittle actually existing institutions which do very much good in the world’

Where did I do that?

557

Harold 12.26.14 at 4:16 pm

@546″The current standard package in developed countries: pensions, unemployment benefit, workforce protections, extensive state control, secret ballots, universal right to vote and so on, were all “socialism” in Marx’s time.”

Wrong. Except for secret ballots and right to vote, Bismarck introduced the measures mentioned in order to prevent Germany from becoming socialist (under Bismarck’s top down regime the Socialist party was banned).) Pre-WW 1 England followed suit in introducing limited social insurance when it noticed that as a result of social insurance German workers were healthier and more robust therefore made better soldiers than English ones.

558

engels 12.26.14 at 4:21 pm

‘The socialist economy is a chimera, it’s millenarianist wish fulfilment not something that can actually exist.’

You’re entitled to your opinion, but if your only argument for ‘X can not exist’ is ‘X has never existed before’ then it’s not founded on anything other than faith.

‘What you actually get is a command economy and that simply doesn’t work as well as a free market.’

Oh rilly?
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-07/did-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-hurt-economic-growth

559

bob mcmanus 12.26.14 at 4:49 pm

Productionism (and ownership is irrelevant, what always mattered was control) no longer applies, either as a boogeyman (capitalism) or as a utopia (socialism). Now the critique should look at distribution and consumption/demand. Part of the reason historians of economics are looking at Ming/Qing China is because of the merchant dominated and controlled successful economy. Think Walmart; think Comcast;think Goldman-Sachs. Producers and owners are no longer in control.

This does not mean that Marx is irrelevant, the first chapter of Capital is about the commodity not the worker or the factory. How and where does the commodity get its value (s)? I still subscribe partly to the LTV, but now wonder if the Labor is not provided by consumers, or “prosumers.”

Why the hell has it taken me three years to discover Castells?

560

mattski 12.26.14 at 4:58 pm

engels,

Where have you belittled actually existing institutions which do good? The inference is quite strong in your writings is it not? For example you wrote,

So let me see if I’ve got this straight- when it comes to understanding or opposing the system of oppression we live under there is nothing of value to be found in Marx’s writings or the Marxist tradition, but 3D printers and yoga are both promising developments.

You appear to be an advocate of a specific brand of socialism, and you’ve been insistent that public goods paid for via taxation are NOT what you’re talking about. Doesn’t that make public goods part of the “system of oppression we live under”?

If I’m incorrect about this you can set me straight. But to take another example, I wrote that buying and selling isn’t inherently immoral. Your rejoinder to this was,

There isn’t anything immoral about people trading stuff they own.

Do you mean to say that a retailer who buys from a factory or a wholesaler, then sells these goods to the public is a) engaged in a virtuous activity since he/she paid the supplier for the goods, or b) engaged in an exploitative activity since (??) they paid for their inventory with–presumably–borrowed money? And if that’s your complaint are you condemning the housing market on the grounds that most people borrow money to buy a house?

Hard to know what you’re saying except you’re not a fan of “the system” we live under and public goods like health care and food stamps etc are part of that system.

561

Anarcissie 12.26.14 at 5:00 pm

mattski 12.26.14 at 2:42 pm @ 552 —
‘You can use ‘socialism’ to mean whatever you want. Just explain what you mean by the word. No problem. Also, what about the word ‘communism’? Why won’t that work for you?

A fundamental problem could be–I think it is–that your ideal is unworkable. This helps explain why we don’t see it!’

I have repeatedly defined socialism, probably more than once in this thread, and hundreds or thousands of times in other discussions: ‘the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers.’ (Some people might add, ‘or by the community’. Or they might write ‘social production’ because they would want to exclude vernacular or personal production for immediate use.) I don’t understand why you say it doesn’t work when there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of examples of socialist enterprises and institutions. (I’m assuming by ‘work’ you mean ‘produces what its adherents desire’ since as I noted before ‘work’ has many meanings.)

The word communism used to mean an absence of property relations, or common ownership of everything. That does seem impractical — I would just as soon have and keep my own toothbrush. If it means ‘everyone gets equal share of aggregate social production’, that might be feasible, but it is quite different from socialism as I defined it. A socialist community might decide to distribute its production according that rule, or to have Welfare (paying certain people to be poor), or something else.

Communism is also used to denote the activities of the various Communist Parties, which is something very different from socialism as defined above. Given the way things worked out, I think Lenin’s ‘state capitalism’ was most accurate in regard to actual arrangements of production, distribution, and consumption — a big boss, a board of directors, a hierarchy of managers, fixers, cops, and spies, dire punishments for dissidents and slackers, lots of workity-work for its own sake, codependent competition with other big deals, idealistic mission statements, and much glorious propaganda.

‘As I mentioned way upthread, what happens when businesses compete for workers?’

Wages go up and working conditions improve for those who have jobs. Then, when something goes wrong, businesses stop competing for workers, and lay some of them off, while wages go down and working conditions deteriorate. Inhale; exhale.

562

mattski 12.26.14 at 5:04 pm

ownership is irrelevant, what always mattered was control

Yes. And I find that it’s best not to put anti-social contrarians in control.

563

mattski 12.26.14 at 5:09 pm

Anarcissie,

I don’t understand why you say it doesn’t work when there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of examples of socialist enterprises and institutions.

Hundreds of thousands? How about 2 or 3 salutary examples?

564

Rich Puchalsky 12.26.14 at 5:13 pm

Anarcissie: “I have repeatedly defined socialism, probably more than once in this thread, and hundreds or thousands of times in other discussions: ‘the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers.’ (Some people might add, ‘or by the community’. Or they might write ‘social production’ because they would want to exclude vernacular or personal production for immediate use.)”

But there’s a potentially large difference between ownership by the workers and ownership by the community. On the one hand, you get the familiar syndrome of ownership by the workers in name only, when the state takes ownership in the name of the workers and actual workers have no real control over what happens at the work site. On the other, I remember approving murmurs at liberal Elizabeth Warren’s slogan “you didn’t build that” directed towards capitalists. It could equally well apply to means of production owned by workers, which generally depend on social and physical infrastructure that those workers did not themselves create, and which often create groups of workers who have conflicting interests with the rest of society. For instance, people have written in this thread about various environmental issues, but workers in dirty industries have interests opposed to environmental ones, and doing something about them requires opposing worker interests not just in a theoretical sense but in a very practical one.

565

LFC 12.26.14 at 5:29 pm

What first attracted me to “the socialist tradition” (as Alexander Gray, iirc, called it) was the emphasis on egalitarianism (in distribution). In high school I wrote a paper on Saint-Simon, Owen, and Fourier. As is well known, Marx denigrated them as “utopian” socialists and argued, notably in Critique of the Gotha Program, that the emphasis on distribution was misplaced and wrong. However, Marx’s own vision of socialism and “the higher phase of communism” (as he called it in CGP) remained, though attractive in various respects, rather vague (at least afaik).

Over the years there’s been some writing, from various angles, about what the concrete institutional structures of a socialist society would look like, the most promising of which seem to involve combining market mechanisms with forms of collective (but not direct state) ownership of at least large parts of the economy and/or public control over investment (though I’m aware there are non-market versions also). This would/should be coupled with genuinely democratic political forms.

One need not be — as I’m not — deeply acquainted with this literature to realize that none of these visions, even if concretely specified which probably doesn’t happen all that often, has ever been achieved on a national scale. Yugoslavia under Tito had a kind of market socialism but it was not a political democracy. The USSR tried the thing discussed in ‘Red Plenty’ (which I bought but read only bits of) which eventually failed on its own terms, and obvs. the political system was highly authoritarian or totalitarian. The Scandinavian countries today have a form of advanced social democracy and democratic political systems but I think they are still capitalist (in terms of, e.g., a lot of basic investment decisions being made privately).

Under these circumstances, what is the point in continuing to call oneself a democratic socialist, esp. say in the U.S.? One point of the designation is that it connects one to a long tradition that includes Marx (at least in certain of his moments) but isn’t limited to him. It orients one’s politics in the direction of “non-reformist reforms,” steps that can be taken within capitalism but that have the potential to point beyond it. There is no especially compelling reason to think that capitalism, a system built on (as Marx observed) the endless accumulation of capital as a kind of goal in itself, is the end-point of history, and there are respectable (if, of course, debatable) arguments that it is entering a terminal period of crisis that will extend over the next, say, century or so, but what will replace it remains open (it might be better and one can hope it will be, but it is not guaranteed to be) and will be shaped in part by social and political movements some of which have not even appeared yet.

566

J Thomas 12.26.14 at 5:51 pm

#561 mattski

Yes. And I find that it’s best not to put anti-social contrarians in control.

In general it’s hard to have contrarians in control because very quickly whatever they say will be whatever the new contrarians are contrary to. Everybody who knows what’s good for him will go along with the guy in control, who can therefore no longer be a contrarian.

Maybe you could have a contrarian secretly in control and people fail to agree with him because they don’t know they need to….

Anyway, whether it’s better to run things according to contrarian ideas depends partly on whether the contrarian ideas work better or worse, and that’s an open question. You’d have to look at the particular ideas.

I agree with you that it would be better if we didn’t have antisocial people in control, and also if there was a way we could arrange things so that being in control didn’t tend to turn people antisocial.

If only word-magic worked, and we could depend on socialists not to be antisocial! But I’m afraid there’s nobody we can depend on that way.

567

Rich Puchalsky 12.26.14 at 6:01 pm

bob mcmanus @ 558: “I still subscribe partly to the LTV, but now wonder if the Labor is not provided by consumers, or “prosumers.””

Items to be consumed may not have an absolute value, but they do have an absolute cost in terms of the ecosystem resources needed to create and dispose of them. I’ve never seen any version of left economics that still takes the LTV at all seriously come to grips with this.

568

Bruce Wilder 12.26.14 at 6:03 pm

mattski: Hard to know what you’re saying except you’re not a fan of “the system” we live under and public goods like health care and food stamps etc are part of that system.

“In economics, a public good is a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others.” Wikipedia

So, neither health care nor food stamps (aka subsidies for the poor in food distribution) are “public goods”.

If you are the one misusing terms, you are not in a position to accuse others of being confused. Deliberately misunderstanding what others are saying is not productive, either.

569

mattski 12.26.14 at 6:26 pm

Bruce, I think you’re quibbling over definitions when what is at issue isn’t overly controversial. I do apologize for not responding to your 515. Give me some time. Peace.

570

Bruce Wilder 12.26.14 at 6:33 pm

J Thomas:

. . . it would be better if we didn’t have antisocial people in control, and also if there was a way we could arrange things so that being in control didn’t tend to turn people antisocial.

If only word-magic worked . . .

Yes and yes.

Also, it’s complicated. And, messy.

I remember a movie scene where Jack Nicolson, playing Melvin Udall, a deeply lonely, socially-handicapped man, shows up unannounced and without an appointment at a psychiatrist’s office demanding immediate help (a prescription), and the psychiatrist, though sympathetic with the Udall’s struggles, patiently insists that Udall must follow the office procedures. Angry that he has not gotten what he wants on his own terms, Jack’s character exits through the waiting room, pausing to glance at the depressed people waiting there. And, he says to those assembled in the waiting room, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

571

Bruce Wilder 12.26.14 at 7:08 pm

mattski: I think you’re quibbling over definitions when what is at issue isn’t overly controversial.

I think you are burying controversy aplenty under sloppy use of language and then projecting.

This, from your comment @ 552:

Single-payer health care does not threaten a market economy. QED.

It depends on what you mean by “market economy”. If you mean the provision of goods and services primarily by privately owned, for-profit entities, then, yes, single-payer sure does “threaten” the market economy. In fact, single-payer is advocated as embodying various means to displace private, for-profit provision. Beginning with the private, for-profit provision of health insurance, but also by strengthening the strategic options of the single-payer institution to manage the system in ways that reduce opportunities to profit — for example, by monopsony pricing for drugs and by manipulating the compensation schemes for health service providers.

Of course, a single-payer system could be administered by and for, for-profit health service conglomerates in a way similar to the way the Obama Administration’s Treasury department has been administered by Citibank, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. It’s not administrative form, but the political substance that presumably matters, though I would not concede that angels could make any system work equally well; whether form follows substance or substance follows form, I will leave to others.

572

Rich Puchalsky 12.26.14 at 7:23 pm

Bruce W: “If you mean the provision of goods and services primarily by privately owned, for-profit entities, then, yes, single-payer sure does “threaten” the market economy.”

It does more than that. Anything that decouples work status from health insurance status in the U.S. frees workers to switch jobs and hold out for higher wages more easily. There is a sense in which a “market economy” forces workers to always be putting their labor up to market, and it works against that sense as well.

573

engels 12.26.14 at 7:26 pm

Mattski: ‘there isn’t anything immoral about people being free to conduct trade’
Me: ‘There isn’t anything immoral about people trading stuff they own. ‘
Mattski: ‘Hard to know what you’re saying’

What I am saying is someone really does own private property then there can’t be anything immoral about her trading it (part of what owning something means is being permitted right to trade it). So if you can prove to me that you really own everything you claim to (you got it from A who got it from B… etc. without force, theft or misappropriation of common resources being involved at any stage) then you can trade it as freely as you wish. And good luck with that!

574

stevenjohnson 12.26.14 at 7:26 pm

“Productionism (and ownership is irrelevant, what always mattered was control) no longer applies, either as a boogeyman (capitalism) or as a utopia (socialism). ”

Using modern transportation to shrink the size of factories, to put them in suburban or semirural areas, to offshore them to other countries are signs of the profitability (to owners) of divide and conquer tactics (against workers,) not the disappearance of productionism. And deskilling is another form of class struggle at the point of production, not production starting to run itself. I can’t pretend to pose as an expert on immigration, the demographic transition and depopulation but I think that notions like the industrial reserve army of labor are relevant.

Also, I have no idea how you can so easily separate consumption from the production of labor power. What mystical influence transforms the electric current in a factory into production while it remains mere consumption in a frame house?

The belief that our age has finally achieved the definitive and irrefutable Marx-Kritik is pretty much the same as the belief that the business cycle has been tamed.

575

stevenjohnson 12.26.14 at 7:28 pm

Quote from bob mcmanus @558

Re the conceptual interpenetration of the notions of production and consumption, of course Marx said it much better, somewhere in the Grundrisse as I recall.

576

Anarcissie 12.26.14 at 7:48 pm

mattski 12.26.14 at 5:09 pm @ 562:
‘Anarcissie,
“I don’t understand why you say it doesn’t work when there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of examples of socialist enterprises and institutions.”
Hundreds of thousands? How about 2 or 3 salutary examples?’

Here’s what you could do. Call up Google, and search for ‘cooperatives’. You will of course get many thousands of hits. At the top you will observe organizations which for the most part are or serve collections of cooperatives. You can dig down into these for individual instances, or, if you go further down Google’s results, will probably encounter some of the larger cooperatives themselves. When I perform this search, my results are largely US-centric because I’m in New York City, and Google knows all; in some other location a search my yield more international results, which might be more interesting. It’s a vast, world-wide development or movement.

Rich Puchalsky 12.26.14 at 5:13 pm @ 563:
‘… But there’s a potentially large difference between ownership by the workers and ownership by the community. …

There certainly is, but a lot of people use the word that way. It’s confusing, but not as confusing as using the word socialism to cover deliberately anti-socialist Welfare programs.

577

engels 12.26.14 at 8:25 pm

you’re not a fan of “the system” we live under and… health care and food stamps etc are part of that system

I value the work in the Red Cross do work in Guantanamo Bay but I still want it to be abolished. What is so difficult about this?

578

bianca steele 12.26.14 at 8:26 pm

LFC: what is the point in continuing to call oneself a democratic socialist, esp. say in the U.S.?

Well, apparently being a democratic socialist means opposing Walmart’s business practices only to the extent they involve depressing their own workers’ wages, and necessarily ignoring those practices to the extent they involve coercing suppliers and distributors into saving Walmart money (even though this means reducing consumer choice overall, as well as depressing wages paid by those other employers). Paying attention to the latter would presumably involve too much mental attention paid to the way the capitalist economy works, and would risk sympathy for those who don’t earn below-minimum hourly wages. Socialists seem to be split, from what I can see (which isn’t much) between those who accept this because hourly workers are the revolutionary class, and those who assume everything that doesn’t involve hourly workers is already taken care of by the extensive, technically trained capitalist bureaucracy we naturally have.

579

bianca steele 12.26.14 at 8:32 pm

@571 (not an objection to Rich particularly)

At what point did people who weren’t either socialists or paleoconservatives begin assuming that anything that didn’t weaken workers’ negotiating ability–anything that didn’t strengthen the negotiating ability only of the very rich–was forbidden? On the contrary, it’s always been taken as a support for liberal capitalism as it exists that it incorporates non-market institutions and social structures.

580

LFC 12.26.14 at 11:41 pm

bianca steele 577
apparently being a democratic socialist means opposing Walmart’s business practices only to the extent they involve depressing their own workers’ wages, and necessarily ignoring those practices to the extent they involve coercing suppliers and distributors into saving Walmart money

Not sure where you’re getting this impression of a ‘democratic socialist position on Walmart’ from, and you don’t cite anyone in particular.

Paying attention to the latter would presumably involve too much mental attention paid to the way the capitalist economy works, and would risk sympathy for those who don’t earn below-minimum hourly wages.

Your apparent implication that dem. socialists are unable to pay much “mental attention” to “the way capitalist economy works” seems strange, as does the implication that the only sympathy must be directed at those earning minimum wages. I assume you’ve heard of labor unions, are aware that many union members earn above minimum wage, and are further aware that certain of the more progressive unions have ties to self-identified dem. socialists.

581

LFC 12.26.14 at 11:48 pm

b. steele 577
Socialists seem to be split, from what I can see (which isn’t much) between those who accept this because hourly workers are the revolutionary class, and those who assume everything that doesn’t involve hourly workers is already taken care of by the extensive, technically trained capitalist bureaucracy we naturally have.

I don’t really follow this, I’m afraid. Perhaps it might clarify matters a bit if I said that by people who call themselves dem. socialists I had mind, say, DSA rather than the Revolutionary Communist Party (assuming there is still such a group) or the Spartacist League or Platypus or etc. I’m beginning to be sorry I posted my 564, but I guess I figured that if, e.g., mcmanus can muse autobiographically about his interest in public works during the Meiji Restoration, I can muse autobiographically about some stupid paper I wrote decades ago.

582

Chris Warren 12.27.14 at 12:31 am

Charles Peterson 12.26.14 at 9:10 am

Evidence suggests Marx himself was looking beyond the Labor Theory of Value

What is this evidence? Primary sources please?

Keen’s misunderstanding of value theory was all set out in two pieces in J. Hist. Ec. Thought (try JSTOR) Unfortuately Keen is a capitalist and holds that Capital must obtain a return – a view he teamed up with a senior Australian ex-Communist – Eris Aarons, to push.

This all adds to the confusion when it comes to explaining Marx to Newbies.

583

Bernard Yomtov 12.27.14 at 2:00 am

Rich Pukalsky@57,

Anything that decouples work status from health insurance status in the U.S. frees workers to switch jobs and hold out for higher wages more easily. There is a sense in which a “market economy” forces workers to always be putting their labor up to market, and it works against that sense as well.

I have no idea what you are getting at. Your first sentence is unquestionably true. But it’s relatuonship to the second is mystifying. Surely being able “to switch jobs and hold out for higher wages,” is the same thing as putting one’s labor “up to market.”

So what are you saying?

584

bianca steele 12.27.14 at 2:13 am

LFC, you asked a rhetorical question, “why should anyone call themselves a democratic socialist these days?”, and now you’re getting all defensive on the democratic socialists’ behalf? Did you want people to argue against you and give reasons why you were wrong to insinuate there weren’t any?

Your apparent implication that dem. socialists are unable to pay much “mental attention” to “the way capitalist economy works” seems strange,

I meant “unwilling,” not “unable”: preferring high-level, externalist, abstract critiques that the people involved would probably reject.

585

LFC 12.27.14 at 2:45 am

LFC, you asked a rhetorical question, “why should anyone call themselves a democratic socialist these days?”, and now you’re getting all defensive on the democratic socialists’ behalf? Did you want people to argue against you and give reasons why you were wrong to insinuate there weren’t any?

You misread me (and my intentions here); perhaps that was my fault for being unclear. Here’s what I wrote:

Under these circumstances, what is the point in continuing to call oneself a democratic socialist, esp. say in the U.S.? One point of the designation is that it connects one to a long tradition that includes Marx (at least in certain of his moments) but isn’t limited to him. It orients one’s politics in the direction of “non-reformist reforms,” steps that can be taken within capitalism but that have the potential to point beyond it.

In other words, I was saying that one reason to call or continue calling oneself a democratic socialist is that it connects one to the socialist tradition. There are also a couple of other decent reasons to do so, but that’s one that appeals to me. So if I’m “getting defensive on their behalf” it’s because I apply the label to myself (albeit not without some ambivalence or uncertainty or etc.).

586

bianca steele 12.27.14 at 3:23 am

LFC @ 584

Yes, I did misread, and I apologize for that, but in my own defense, I have to say that the answers you offered were so out of touch with the thread–which is not about why people might be pleased to read books in favor of egalitarianism, much less to be able to understand a specific academic tradition–that I thought they were supposed to be intentionally inadequate.

587

js. 12.27.14 at 6:33 am

Reading the LFC/bianca steele exchange was a bit strange/funny because it was immediately obvious to me what LFC meant—I suppose because if I were to call myself a democratic socialist (I don’t, because mostly I’d rather just go with ‘socialist’, say, but I have been strongly drawn to it at points), it would be precisely for the reason LFC lists.

And @mattski: This has probably been pointed out by someone already, but at the very least you want to distinguish between a market economy and capitalism. If for no other reason than that there is always the possibility of the Rawlsian type scenario where social ownership of the means of production is combined with a market economy (this is a possibility Rawls allows for a just society in his sense). Whatever you might think of this, it’s not an incoherent position, so a market economy just as such can’t be equivalent to capitalism.

588

Brett Dunbar 12.27.14 at 11:38 am

The name Revolutionary Communist Party has been use three times.

RCP (US) (1975- ) Maoist party led by Bob Avakian. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Communist_Party,_USA

RCP (UK I) (1944-49) Short lived Trotskyite party, existed as part of the kind of internecine theological bickering that Trots seem to love.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Communist_Party_(UK,_1944)

RCP (UK II) (1978-97) Trotskyite. Published Living Marxism, later LM. Shifted from far left to far right libertarians. LM went bankrupt after libelling ITN (they accused ITN of faking evidence of Serbian genocide in Bosnia, deservedly lost subsequent libel case). The ex-RCPers then founded Spiked-online, they remain a bunch of arseholes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Communist_Party_(UK,_1978)

589

Rich Puchalsky 12.27.14 at 1:51 pm

Bernard Y.: “”I have no idea what you are getting at. Your first sentence is unquestionably true. But it’s relatuonship to the second is mystifying. Surely being able “to switch jobs and hold out for higher wages,” is the same thing as putting one’s labor “up to market.””

Every worker in a market economy who has not yet retired has to eventually put their labor back up to market. But by “hold out for higher wages” I meant that workers with health insurance could choose to remain unemployed longer and wait out bad market conditions, or choose to collectively bargain and jointly withdraw their labor from the market.

590

LFC 12.27.14 at 1:52 pm

@js.
…distinguish between a market economy and capitalism

Yes, an important distinction, imo (as I suggested, perhaps too verbosely, above at 564).

591

Rich Puchalsky 12.27.14 at 2:06 pm

js.: “Reading the LFC/bianca steele exchange was a bit strange/funny because it was immediately obvious to me what LFC meant—I suppose because if I were to call myself a democratic socialist (I don’t, because mostly I’d rather just go with ‘socialist’, say, but I have been strongly drawn to it at points), it would be precisely for the reason LFC lists.”

I wonder how people can believe things like this and also take Marx seriously. Here’s the leading few sentences of LFC’s comment:

LFC: “What first attracted me to “the socialist tradition” (as Alexander Gray, iirc, called it) was the emphasis on egalitarianism (in distribution). In high school I wrote a paper on Saint-Simon, Owen, and Fourier. As is well known, Marx denigrated them as “utopian” socialists and argued, notably in Critique of the Gotha Program, that the emphasis on distribution was misplaced and wrong.”

So, like LFC, you want to include yourself in a line that “connects one to a long tradition that includes Marx (at least in certain of his moments) but isn’t limited to him.” I think that’s historically blinkered and kind of sad. All through that long tradition, Marx himself or Marxists in general were dismissing people like you who were attached to the idea of egalitarian distribution. At best, you were regarded as useful idiots, and at worst you were eliminated when Marxists came to power. You may have this romantic vision of one long tradition that includes both democratic, egalitarian redistribution and Marx, but it’s a fantasy.

Normally I don’t write against fantasy: I mean, if people like to believe in unicorns or whatever, fine. But this one is a particularly stupid historical fantasy because there always were leftists who were democratic socialists concerned with egalitarian redistribution. You don’t hear as much about them because in the capitalist world they felt they had to become social democrats, and in the Marxist-Leninist world they were shot. But don’t write them out of the historical fantasy in favor of the people who suppressed them.

592

Bernard Yomtov 12.27.14 at 3:19 pm

Rich P.,

I meant that workers with health insurance could choose to remain unemployed longer and wait out bad market conditions, or choose to collectively bargain and jointly withdraw their labor from the market.

So you are saying that having health insurance that is not employer-dependent strengthens an unemployed worker’s bargaining power.

Well, that seems right. The ready availability of health insurance also greatly helps the employed worker, who will find it much easier to change jobs, quit and work for himself, retire early, and so on. This has long been one argument among many in favor of changing the American insurance system.

593

Brett Bellmore 12.27.14 at 3:25 pm

Actually, that strikes me as an argument in favor of changing America’s *taxation* system. Since the link between employment and health insurance is an artifact of our tax system.

My proposal is to let people buy health insurance pre-tax no matter where they get it. You could argue for post-tax, but that would require a pretty big cut in tax rates at the same time.

594

J Thomas 12.27.14 at 4:18 pm

#592 BB

Actually, that strikes me as an argument in favor of changing America’s *taxation* system. Since the link between employment and health insurance is an artifact of our tax system.

Not just the tax system, unfortunately.

My proposal is to let people buy health insurance pre-tax no matter where they get it.

Where I live, if you want wired internet service you have basicly two choices. Both of them are around $80/month for service that would not be considered adequate in South Korea. Take it or leave it.

Imagine what it would be like if your employer bought your internet service for you. “We’re talking 12,700 sites in this state, what kind of deal can you offer me? … Yes, thank you, I’ll call you back when I see what kind of deal Cox offers.”

The actual fees would probably vary a lot depending on how big your company is and how good they are at negotiating deals, and on just which benefits they’re willing to negotiate away.

And then say you’re unemployed and you want to get a contract just for your lonesome. “We have a variety of plans for individual internet service, but you probably can’t afford any of them. Have you looked into internet insurance?”

595

mattski 12.27.14 at 5:26 pm

Bruce,

It depends on what you mean by “market economy”.

Yes.

If you mean the provision of goods and services primarily by privately owned, for-profit entities, then, yes, single-payer sure does “threaten” the market economy. In fact, single-payer is advocated as embodying various means to displace private, for-profit provision.

But I wouldn’t say that is a threat to a market economy. It is a concession to the uniqueness of health care which is unlike most consumer goods. We can equally argue that socialized health care strengthens the market economy by–as Rich P points out–effectively increasing workers bargaining power. This seems in line with some of Stiglitz’s themes. (Increases in the minimum wage can have a similar, counterintuitive effect.)

I think you are burying controversy aplenty under sloppy use of language and then projecting.

If my use of the term ‘public goods’ offends you because it isn’t technically correct then how about we substitute ‘social spending’ instead. I don’t think it affects my argument one way or another.

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bianca steele 12.27.14 at 5:35 pm

@js.: …distinguish between a market economy and capitalism

I don’t know, it seems to me one of the greatest contributions of Marxism (ambiguous or even harmful as it is) is the idea of reifying an actual social system, as it exists right not, under the name of the Platonic category it belongs to. So that one criticizes the current society (possibly in one of its non-economic aspects), which happens in Marxist terms to be capitalistic, and one phrases this as “the problem with capitalism is [whatever one wants to criticize].” It seems to me that distinguishing so closely between market economy and capitalism opens the possibility of vacillating between the two by criticizing “capitalism” but allowing “market economy” as an acceptable solution. It’s really not a blunt enough instrument.

mattski: And that’s one of the problems with your argument. You need a strawman Marxism/socialism to argue against that, and you’ve imagined a kind of Platonic Marxism but one that doesn’t have that “blunt instrument” aspect to it.

597

mattski 12.27.14 at 5:36 pm

Anarcissie,

Sure, I can google ‘cooperatives’ but that doesn’t give me a list of organizations that meet your criteria for socialism!

598

mattski 12.27.14 at 5:51 pm

bianca,

The only ‘pure’ socialism to criticize is hypothetical, so you can call it a strawman but we don’t have any choice! That’s all there is to argue against. And if I don’t imagine ‘blunt instrument’ socialism isn’t that out of respect for the spirit of socialism? Are you saying you would rather I imagine a good, hearty Stalinist socialism which will sweep any entrepreneurship off to the gulag?

599

bianca steele 12.27.14 at 5:58 pm

mattski,

Strawman argument is usually counterproductive and tends to say more about the person who invented the strawman than about the people s/he chooses to argue against.

The choice to define the opponent as “hypothetical” is a choice. There are plenty of ways to argue against socialism that aren’t “hypothetical” (which seems to assume “socialism” is a chimera that people invent because they “need” the idea to exist for some reason, not because they see people or systems in the world they want to criticize). There are books that define socialism. There are people who call themselves socialists. There are people whom historians and so on call socialists. There are institutions that define themselves as socialist, are rejected by actual, not-hypothetical non-socialists for being socialist, and so on. There’s plenty of material available, and no need to treat all ideas as “hypothetical” so that you’re free to develop the concepts in your own head from first principles or something.

Much less to corral people online into either defending your strawman or working to help you articulate your own.

600

mattski 12.27.14 at 6:02 pm

js.

you want to distinguish between a market economy and capitalism. If for no other reason than that there is always the possibility of the Rawlsian type scenario where social ownership of the means of production is combined with a market economy

Well, OK, but isn’t this on the speculative side? For example, where would sole proprietors fit into this scenario? Would social ownership be a requirement for engaging in commerce? Would this more realistically be imagined as part of a mixed economy?

I guess I would be inclined not to draw this distinction until facts on the ground make it necessary to do so.

601

mattski 12.27.14 at 6:17 pm

engels,

OK, I’ll concede your 576. :^) But your 572,

(part of what owning something means is being permitted right to trade it). So if you can prove to me that you really own everything you claim to then you can trade it as freely as you wish.

is still quite confusing IMO. Sounds like you’re a free-trader but you want to give everyone veto power over every transaction!

602

LFC 12.27.14 at 8:31 pm

R. Puchalsky @590
We’re not going to resolve our differences, I think, within the confines of this (already very long) discussion.

But specifically on the passage in ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ I was referring to: Marx’s argument there is that distribution is a result of the mode of production, of who owns “the material conditions of production.” Whatever you think about this argument’s validity, Marx is not criticizing in this passage the idea or ideal of equality, but rather criticizing a version of socialism that, he maintained, treated distribution separately from the mode of production and thus (wrongly) presented socialism “as turning principally on distribution.” Marx’s point in this passage is that socialism does not “turn principally on distribution,” that it turns on (what he saw as) the deeper question of the mode of production. So he’s making an analytical point more than a criticism of equality; he’s saying, in effect: transform the mode of production and one of the results will be a different (and doubtless more equal) distribution, but don’t focus on distribution, focus rather on transforming the mode of production.

In my view, one cannot blame this passage in ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ for the fact that self-labeled ‘Marxist-Leninist’ regimes have often suppressed their opponents, including some whose versions of socialism differed from theirs. This gets us back to the question to what extent Marx can/should be held responsible for the actions of the regimes that made use of his name, and clearly we’re not going to agree on that, nor on whether it makes sense (historically or otherwise) to speak of a ‘socialist tradition’.

603

js. 12.27.14 at 8:32 pm

RP @590:

You’ve done a quite marvelous job of reading things into my comment that weren’t there. I’m not sure what else to say.

bianca steele @595:

I’m not sure I totally understand your comment, but the point is indeed that if someone opposes capitalism, they shouldn’t thereby be saddled with a commitment to oppose a market economy as well. I brought up Rawls because it was a relatively neutral way of making the point, but there are people within what’s called ‘analytic marxism’ who who quite determinedly oppose capitalism (i.e. private ownership) without committing themselves to a market economy vs. a command economy vs. something else. And there’s nothing incoherent about this; in fact it can seem quite sensible.

mattski @599:

If what you want to do is conflate two different concepts and so introduce unnecessary conceptual confusion, then, hey, who am I to stop you.

604

Bruce Wilder 12.27.14 at 8:32 pm

mattski: If my use of the term ‘public goods’ offends you because it isn’t technically correct then how about we substitute ‘social spending’ instead.

Yes. Let’s you do that. Unless you particularly treasure the opportunity to misunderstand and be misunderstood.

mattski: I wouldn’t say that is a threat to a market economy. It is a concession to the uniqueness of health care which is unlike most consumer goods. We can equally argue that socialized health care strengthens the market economy by–as Rich P points out–effectively increasing workers bargaining power.

OK, so now “strengthens” is your candidate for meaninglessness. I’m sure you can keep this up all day, but tell me what is the point of this tactic?

Just speaking politically — not semantically — who do you imagine wants to “strengthen” the “market economy” by limiting the scope for markets to operate? Are those full of fulsome praise for the wondrous achievements of “the market economy” as against the scourge of central planning, are they in favor of “strengthening” the market economy by instituting stronger institutions of centralized administration?

More prosaically, is the Republican Party? Is the Obama Administration? Because I don’t see it. Everybody says they want to preserve “choice” and for-profit insurance, no matter how predictably and thoroughly it fails. Because government is the source of all failures, including market failure. Look at Brett Bellmore @ 592 — he’s right there, sure that market competition is best, and “the problem” is an artifact of the tax system, aka the government.

605

mattski 12.27.14 at 9:16 pm

Bruce,

but tell me what is the point of this tactic?

Here is a series of claims:

-publicly financed single payer health care can and should strengthen the bargaining power of workers (in addition to improving quality of life/health for the population at large)
-increasing the bargaining power of workers can and should increase workers share of national income
-increasing workers share of national income can and should increase aggregate demand
-increasing aggregate demand should strengthen the market economy

What do you find so objectionable about this argument that you need to ridicule it?

606

Brett Dunbar 12.27.14 at 9:20 pm

Having private insurance linked to employment results in a rather illiquid job market. Older workers who have developed health problems cannot risk changing jobs as they would find it hard to get insurance at their current rate. Individual insurance without a mandate is subject to an adverse selection death spiral.

Contribution based systems still cause a problem in relation to temporary unemployment, if you are unemployed for any length of time it is going to be hard to pay the premiums.

The NHS means that I have access to pretty good health care regardless of employment ability to pay or anything else. This makes both self-employment and switching jobs far less risky. making the labour market substantially more liquid.

607

bob mcmanus 12.27.14 at 9:47 pm

605,606 have a Keynesian presupposition, assuming a cooperative cohesive society at the start. Liberals also assume any lack of cooperation as a political or cultural problem, a flaw for a technocratic fix.

Neoclassical economics assumes an atomistic society of individual competitors, and Marxism assumes a society of competitive classes or class positions*.

*It is wrong in Marxist analysis to focus on an individual capitalist or firm or sector; in this way it is between Keynes and Neoclassicism.

The resistances to and/or desire/efforts to exploit healthcare in both latter cases can be left as an exercise…

608

Chris Warren 12.27.14 at 9:59 pm

The problem with markets are two.

When a commodity appears on a free market, it does not exhibit the conditions under which it was produced. You cannot tell, by looking at a consumer item whether it was made by sweatshop labour or union labour.

Secondly, when a commodity appears on a free market, it has already been separated from its producers, who then have no contact with its final realisation. This introduces opportunities for third parties to enrich themselves.

However all this has nothing specifically or uniquely to do with capitalism. Except for Central Banks, in general, capitalism only makes capitalist profit where there is no free market.

However a free market in labour is a different matter. A perfectly free market for labour only produces wages equal to the “marginal” productivity of labour. This revenue aggregated is, by definition, inadequate to purchase all productivity of labour produced by society.

Any system where some people “work for wages” while others collect whatever else they can scoop into their hands will lead to Picketty’s inequality.

The specific system of Capitalism (undifferentiated in Picketty) will have additional problems and crisis tendencies, best explained by David Harvey.

609

Norwegian Guy 12.27.14 at 10:10 pm

There is no such thing as market economy or planned economy. It’s all mixed economy as far as I can see. In a US context, I wouldn’t say that publicly financed single payer health care strengthens the market economy. It would shift the economic mix a bit in a public, non-market direction. I agree that it would be good for the economy, but there is no reason to call this the market economy.

By the way, this is why I dislike the term “market socialism”. It puts undue emphasis on markets in what should be a mixed economy. In the worst case, it opens the door to neoliberals (i.e. people who want more markets than we have today) disguised as socialists.

610

Brett Dunbar 12.27.14 at 10:34 pm

It hasn’t been common to pay marginal wages for a long time. Employers mostly pay efficiency wages. Turnover imposes a major cost so it is worth paying a bit above the market clearing rate. Marginal pay tended to occur with casual day-labour. Experience normally has a big effect on productivity.

611

bob mcmanus 12.27.14 at 10:52 pm

1) Somebody way up above asked for a source on Marx moving away from the LTV. (Or was it Falling Rate of Profit?) In any case, Michael Heinrich appears to discuss it in An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital 2012. Controversial, and I haven’t read it.

Michael Roberts and Guglielmo Carchedi on Heinrich pdf, hardcore Marxist economics. Carchedi also counters Heinrich in Behind the Crisis

2) Michael Roberts blog is a good place to get some orthodox analysis of why Keynesianism must fail, even under good political conditions. Increasing wage share in an open economy (include “social wage”, healthcare, ss, unemployment, education, etc) must eventually decrease profits and decrease reinvestment and hasten collapse or crisis and wage suppression. Think of 70s England. If you are interested, search “Keynes” on his blog Michael Roberts The Next Recession will get you there. Prepare for charts and jargon.

612

bob mcmanus 12.27.14 at 11:56 pm

And here is David Harvey versus Michael Roberts on falling rate of profit, financialization, Michael Heinrich etc. With links back to Harvey’s blog (which links back to Roberts), and 118 well-informed comments.

I mostly just read and link this stuff, not argue it. Because it’s complicated and harder than a camping trip, and because they have better minds than mine, and because I don’t quite see why I have to settle on a position.

613

mattski 12.28.14 at 12:12 am

I agree that [single-payer health care] would be good for the economy, but there is no reason to call this the market economy.

I chose those words because that is the aspect of the story that, here on this CT thread, seems most controversial. Everything I’ve argued has been premised on the real world, mixed economy.

614

Rich Puchalsky 12.28.14 at 12:13 am

LFC: “This gets us back to the question to what extent Marx can/should be held responsible for the actions of the regimes that made use of his name, and clearly we’re not going to agree on that, nor on whether it makes sense (historically or otherwise) to speak of a ‘socialist tradition’.”

If we’re agreeing to disagree, then I’ll just repeat that the left tradition that I generally identify with was separated from the Marxist tradition by Marx, not by Marxists. But let me remind you how Marx actually wrote. Here’s a bit from Part I of Critique of the Gotha Programme where he starts to address this:

I have dealt more at length with the “undiminished” proceeds of labor, on the one hand, and with “equal right” and “fair distribution”, on the other, in order to show what a crime it is to attempt, on the one hand, to force on our Party again, as dogmas, ideas which in a certain period had some meaning but have now become obsolete verbal rubbish, while again perverting, on the other, the realistic outlook, which it cost so much effort to instill into the Party but which has now taken root in it, by means of ideological nonsense about right and other trash so common among the democrats and French socialists.

From everything that I know of Marx himself — and from his style — he would have scorned as much as I do the idea of people including him and his ideas within some kind of vague socialist admiration of egalitarian distribution.

615

Chris Warren 12.28.14 at 3:33 am

While Norwegian Guy 12.27.14 at 10:10 pm has highlighted the problem with terminology, we have no alternative.

I have exactly the same concerns over “mixed economy” as this can mean a mix of markets and plans, or mix of public and private capitalist.

Market socialism can be understood as being mixed with planning and should not concern people too much. However mixing market socialism with market capitalism is anathema.

As Rich Puchalsky noted, Marx was an an egalitarian. He supported distributing wealth according to productivity under socialism, and then distributing wealth according to need under communism. Neither is egalitarian.

If there is an equality for Marxists – it is a moral equality that only arises under advanced communism.

616

Bruce Wilder 12.28.14 at 6:51 am

mattski @ 605

I don’t think you have an argument. What you have is simple-minded playing with words. It is not an argument to take a term or phrase, redefine it from your private dictionary, and then challenge your interlocutor with your new contrarian usage. That’s not a way to have a conversation.

Maybe you think you are making some useful point about “the system made me do it” type of diagnoses, I don’t know. It seems to me that you are just inviting conceptual confusion.

617

Plume 12.28.14 at 1:28 pm

I think Marx was wrong about a lot of things. Egalitarianism is one of them. I part ways with him there. As was his belief that worker concentration in the factories would eventually bring about great solidarity and the downfall of capitalism itself. Though, from his vantage point, from his being in the thick of things during the rise of the industrial revolution in Britain, it’s not all that surprising that he would believe that. But, overall, I think too many dismiss him because they’ve radically increased their standards of judgment just for him. I don’t know of any other figure in history that seems to need such a high batting average in order to be “taken seriously.” Marx’s standard is quite nearly 1000, it seems, when most other thinkers can get away with a ton of strikeouts and a few singles.

Marx has to be better than Ted Williams in his best year (1941), or he’s easily dismissed.

As for socialism overall. I still find it funny and incredibly tragic that so many people write it off too, with pretty much no concern for context or history. Putting aside for a moment the fact that no one has tried actual socialism (nation-wide) in the modern world, for the reasons listed above, even if we accept the conservative frame (instead of listening to the far wiser Chomsky, among others), their idea of “failure” survives in a vacuum. When a George Will talks about socialism’s failure in Cuba, for instance, he must completely ignore the fact that things were worse under Batista, and had been pretty rotten for most Cubans going back two centuries, and through umpteen dictators supported by the Americanos. As in, a failure compared with what? Or Russia in 1917. It was worse under the tzars for far more people, and had been for centuries. And those tzars had their Russia in an economic mess at least a century behind the economies of the West. Russia “failed” largely because it tried far too hard to catch up with us, which proved it wasn’t an alternative economic system. It was command and control capitalism. And it failed because the West did everything it could to make sure it failed, from fomenting civil wars, to embargoes, to freezing it out of the dominant economic arrangements which is had once been part of under the tzars.

What if real socialism were tried in a healthy, vibrant economy, as Marx called for? What if we didn’t try to socialize scarcity, as Marx warned against?

618

Ze Kraggash 12.28.14 at 2:43 pm

611 “Michael Roberts blog is a good place to get some orthodox analysis of why Keynesianism must fail, even under good political conditions. Increasing wage share in an open economy (include “social wage”, healthcare, ss, unemployment, education, etc) must eventually decrease profits and decrease reinvestment and hasten collapse or crisis and wage suppression.”

I think this may be what we’re witnessing now in Europe, where the aggregate GDP today (yes, in orthodox terms) is still below what it was in 2007. Stagnation, accompanied by socio-economic problems, mass-disillusionment, nationalism (massively) on the rise – it feels like the writings on the wall for the social-democratic third-wayism. The US, where welfare state is much weaker, is doing better, but still lagging well behind China.

619

Anarcissie 12.28.14 at 2:58 pm

Chris Warren 12.28.14 at 3:33 am @ 615:
‘[Marx] supported distributing wealth according to productivity under socialism, and then distributing wealth according to need under communism. Neither is egalitarian. If there is an equality for Marxists – it is a moral equality that only arises under advanced communism.’

They are rather egalitarian methods compared to distributing the social product according to existing wealth or political power, as is the case with liberalism/capitalism. Since both productivity and need are difficult if not impossible to measure objectively, they strike me as impractical goals, but the intention is clearly egalitarian, in a direct, material sense.

620

Brett Bellmore 12.28.14 at 3:15 pm

Lagging behind China in terms of growth rate, but not in terms of where that growth has arrived at. Essentially, China is racing along charted territory. The question is how they’ll do when they have to do their own innovating, not how they can do copying what others have shown works.

621

Bernard Yomtov 12.28.14 at 4:18 pm

Ze Kraggash,

Europe has not followed Keynesian policies. That makes it hard to see how Europe’s difficulties illustrate the necessary failure of Keynesianism.

622

Plume 12.28.14 at 4:45 pm

Anarcissie @619,

Good point. In relative terms, Marx was an egalitarian. Perhaps not in comparison with his leftist peers. But definitely in comparison with liberals/capitalists. And more so in comparison with conservatives.

623

Ze Kraggash 12.28.14 at 6:08 pm

621 “Europe has not followed Keynesian policies.”

Of course it has been following Keynesian policies. , They all follow; in Europe it’s the welfare state, and in the US a big part of it the military-industrial complex. They can roll it back a little or escalate a little, but still they send checks to the unemployed, they feed the hungry, they treat the sick, they maintain huge government bureaucracies, and the US also maintains the largest professional army in the world armed with all kinds of super-expensive military junk.

624

Ze Kraggash 12.28.14 at 6:31 pm

620 “The question is how they’ll do when they have to do their own innovating, not how they can do copying what others have shown works.”

I don’t get it: who is they and who is others? An innovation rolled out in your country is your country’s innovation. Google’s founder was born the USSR, but I don’t think it makes it a Soviet innovation.

China’s PPP GDP has been growing 8-16% every year, steadily, for decades, and in orthodox terms that’s all there is to it: their system is the winner. Europe is the biggest loser, and while the US is slightly better, it’s still pretty close to the bottom.

625

bob mcmanus 12.28.14 at 7:08 pm

623: Yomtov is just channeling Krugman.

After reading 100 pages last night on Japanese East Asian supply chains and manufacturing networks (FDI since 1970s in Thailand, Indonesia etc) with specific focus on internetwork and intranetwork technology transfers and current competition both practically and institutionally with “Greater China” manufacturing networks in the same regions…I have decided that Krugman’s concentration on Japanese CB monetary policy and domestic fiscal spending (as if Japan were a closed economy) only reveals his Anglo-American neoclassical idiocy.

626

mattski 12.28.14 at 7:20 pm

Bruce 616

I feel your ego loud and clear.

Ze Kraggash 623

Of course [Europe] has been following Keynesian policies

Fool.

627

Plume 12.28.14 at 7:56 pm

Mattski,

Good cite. Europe is even worse than we are in the austerity insanity. They haven’t been “Keynesian” in decades. Nor have we.

628

J Thomas 12.28.14 at 8:45 pm

#624 Ze Kraggash

China’s PPP GDP has been growing 8-16% every year, steadily, for decades, and in orthodox terms that’s all there is to it: their system is the winner. Europe is the biggest loser, and while the US is slightly better, it’s still pretty close to the bottom.

Why is the USA doing better than europe?

My first thought is that the USA has vast plains of grain that we export. And we export lots of meat. And we have giant forests that we clearcut and export the timber. We’re a net oil importer but I expect we import a smaller fraction of our oil than europe does.

Other things equal I’d expect us to do better than europe. We have many more resources that we can sell to China etc. I don’t have solid numbers on that but maybe somebody does. Maybe I’m even wrong, but it sure makes sense.

It seems like whenever some other economy grows faster than the US economy, somebody trots out the explanation that we’re the groundbreaker and they’re following our example so they can catch up. Europe after WWII. Later Japan. Now China.

But if China becomes the groundbreaker and slows down because they must experiment and find solutions, will we grow faster as we copy them? Does it really make sense that our current slow growth is because we are spending so much on innovation that it slows us down?

I want to suggest just as a possibility that China’s growth is not because they have cheap labor. They have a whole lot of people who want jobs so they arrange cheap labor for them, but that’s a sideline. I think that a modern mostly-automated factory can go just about anywhere. If it has access to container-ships, then it can get its raw materials cheap and send its products cheap to anywhere in the world that has access to container-ships. China has merely arranged that a lot of those factories are in china and that they get some of the profits. Mostly-automated factories are cheaper to run than factories with cheap labor and also produce better stuff. People are inherently imprecise and when we try to be precise we get repetitive strain injuries. Human beings are simply not a good fit for mass production.

So OK, China tries to provide cheap jobs for its people because they deeply want jobs. But maybe the big profits come from the automated stuff that we don’t pay as much attention to.

629

Rich Puchalsky 12.28.14 at 9:13 pm

“I want to suggest just as a possibility that China’s growth is not because they have cheap labor. ”

China is also capable of taking on projects that the U.S. is too feeble to do any more. For instance, some country has to develop solar panels to the point where they are cheaper than coal, for both national advantage and for the sake of the world economy and global climate. China is in the midst of doing that, through good old command-and-control, national industry investment, planned economy kinds of methods. The socialists here would presumably be proud if they hadn’t spent the whole thread inexplicably asserting that China wasn’t real socialism. When the U.S. tried to develop solar power, internal divisions in terms of the GOP seizing on the Solyndra setback scuttled it.

630

guthrie 12.28.14 at 9:22 pm

R.e. China’s growth rate, I am reminded of the now deceased political lunatic who reckoned that the UK could achieve 10% growth if only the government was gotten out of the way and proper libertarian policies enacted.
Or rather, it’s easy to grow at 10% a year when your economy and consumption is very low; much harder when they are very high. Investment will go to the low consuming economy because there’s plenty to invest in. Meanwhile, in the UK, there isn’t. That doesn’t meant that the Chinese system is better than the UK one, because they still haven’t caught up to our standard of living, or indeed ours fallen to the level of theirs, the efforts of politicians notwithstanding.

631

Brett Bellmore 12.28.14 at 9:23 pm

“I don’t get it: who is they and who is others? An innovation rolled out in your country is your country’s innovation. Google’s founder was born the USSR, but I don’t think it makes it a Soviet innovation.”

What’s not to get? China can go from their pathetic starting point to equity with the US without doing anything more that going from what they were doing, to what we’re doing. They don’t have to invent nuclear reactors, for instance, that’s already been done. Some technology they can buy, some they are given, some they steal, and all three approaches are easier than inventing it in the first place.

They’re not blazing a trail, they’re following one. You can do that a lot faster than the people who are blazing it. But, at some point, you catch up, and then you’ve got to do the hard work yourself.

What I’m saying is, don’t expect China’s growth rate to continue past, or even to, the per capita GDP of a modern developed country. Expect it to stall at some point short of there.

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bob mcmanus 12.28.14 at 9:28 pm

We have many more resources that we can sell to China etc.

Not material, but the US does create and sell/license technology and science. The US is also still a monster demand market for finished commodities.

1) Just one story of one production tier, but a) China does put college graduates on automated assembly lines in order to b) promote innovation, flexibility and custom manufacturing.

2) The “Greater China” model is one of “flexible manufacturing,” with many small independent shops each making a component to be assembled elsewhere, often extranational. These small shops are capable of adjusting rapidly to changes in technology or demand. Taiwan, but also North Italy and Southwest Germany.

I too could be wrong.

633

Val 12.28.14 at 9:30 pm

@615
“Marx … supported distributing wealth according to productivity under socialism, and then distributing wealth according to need under communism. Neither is egalitarian.”

Why is distributing wealth according to need not egalitarian? Is this some strange right wing idea that egalitarianism means everybody must have exactly the same amount of everything, even if, for example, some need daily care or a modified house due to disability?

As Arnacissie says @619, need is hard to define. Nevertheless, the idea of distributing wealth according to need is egalitarian.

William Thomas, the “Protector of Aborigines” in early 19thC Victoria (Australia), wrote that amongst the Aboriginal people he knew ” … none lacketh while others have it, nor is the gift considered as a favour, but a right brought to the needy …”. It’s not a utopian fantasy, it’s a way that people have lived and can live.

634

J. Parnell Thomas 12.28.14 at 10:10 pm

Just 3 things about China’s growth that haven’t been mentioned.
1. They just make up their numbers.
2. Empty cities and warehouses full of huge amounts unsellable stuff.
3. They’re still mainly a poor country so they haven’t whatayacallit reverted to the mean yet, although I heard they’ve started to.

635

Val 12.28.14 at 10:12 pm

John Quiggin on the ‘Sandy Hook and Peshawar’ thread, says he doesn’t mind Brett Bellmore commenting because Brett is typical of US right wingers. What seems to annoy others about BB’s comments (it certainly does me at times) is that they seem stupid – just someone putting fingers to keyboard to repeat his established ideas, never bothering to think properly or engage with what others are saying. This probably wouldn’t annoy JQ so much because he seems to believe that current right wingers are stupid, therefore I guess he would just see this in itself as illustrative of right wing ‘thought’.

On reflection, I don’t think Brett’s comment problem is stupidity as such, but rather reflects something Amartya Sen said in his book on inequality: that all contemporary political discourse has to accept some idea of equity or fairness as a good thing (not in those words, obv) to be taken seriously in contemporary culture. Brett’s comment @631, about how the Chinese are only successful because they copy, obviously sounds dumb, and I, at least, am initially tempted to give him a lecture about history, and how all cultures learn from each other, and how the Japanese in post World War Australia were seen in a very similar way as people who made cheap copies of good white western stuff, etc etc. However when I think more deeply about Brett’s comments (in general, not just that one), it seems to me his commenting illustrates Sen’s insight. Brett can’t just simply come out and say that Americans are essentially superior to the Chinese, because that’s not considered acceptable in contemporary discourse. In the same way, it’s not acceptable to say that men are essentially superior to women, or whites are essentially superior to blacks. Yet I think many conservatives still hold these beliefs about natural superiority, so the reason they sound stupid is that they can’t say what they actually think. If they said what they actually thought they would sound wrong, but maybe not as stupid?

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Plume 12.28.14 at 10:17 pm

Blazing the trail on innovation? Most of ours came from our public sector, and still comes from there. Our private sector is usually about two decades slow to catch on, doing so on purpose, as it waits for the public sector to do all the legwork for it. Then it jumps in, if it feels there’s profit in it. The only thing our private sector does in the “innovation” sphere is figuring out how to squeeze more unpaid labor hours from workers. That and they’re getting better and better at marketing junk, buying politicians, suppressing information about their doings, etc.

The computer, GPS, touch screen, the Internet, etc. etc. came from the public sector. And the public sector itself built on the work of others going back decades, or centuries.

If China “copies” us, they’re copying our public sector, not our private. And if they hadn’t been a century behind us economically from before their revolution, they may well have beaten us in public sector innovation.

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Ze Kraggash 12.28.14 at 10:21 pm

628 “Why is the USA doing better than europe?”

I don’t know, but perhaps, in part, because it’s less keynesian than Europe: less government spending in the ole’ good US of A. Although, as I understand, not by much, so it’s probably something else. Perhaps the US practices more direct intervention into its economy, via its military-industrial complex. Or perhaps the US is lying about its GDP more than the Europeans do; wouldn’t surprise me.

631 “They’re not blazing a trail, they’re following one.”

This may all be right, but irrelevant. China attracts capital, investment, it’s economy is growing fast and steadily.

China, the country, doesn’t buy technology, I don’t think. One company buys technology from another and implements it in China. That last part is essential, for evaluating country’s performance. Where the guy who developed the technology is located, geographically, is not, unless s/he is generating a large amount of GDP for his location. But then would’ve seen it in the GDP numbers, and we don’t.

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Plume 12.28.14 at 10:22 pm

Val,

That makes sense. And in numerous conversation with conservatives, I’ve been told by them that they really, really don’t care about inequality. They don’t think it’s important at all. Some, because they couldn’t care less about other human beings . . . while others have convinced themselves that rich people can hoard things to themselves without taking them from anyone or anywhere else. They believe in that special right-wing math that says if Joe Rich guy takes six of the ten apples on the table, everyone still can choose from ten apples.

Oh, well.

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Ze Kraggash 12.28.14 at 10:28 pm

639 “Empty cities and warehouses full of huge amounts unsellable stuff.”

Building an empty city is no different from building aircraft carriers or useless pencil-pushing. It still goes into the GDP.

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Brett Bellmore 12.28.14 at 10:29 pm

“Brett’s comment @631, about how the Chinese are only successful because they copy,”

Didn’t say that. I said that it’s easy to advance rapidly when you can do so by copying what somebody else has done.

“Brett can’t just simply come out and say that Americans are essentially superior to the Chinese,”

Because I don’t think that. Imagine two people racing up a hill, which gets steeper and steeper as it goes up. Assuming they’re identical, the front runner will always be going slower than the rear, and this won’t be because the rear is a better runner, it will be because the rear hasn’t hit the tough going yet.

I think the American system is better than the Chinese system, but that’s got nothing to do with Americans being better than Chinese. Indeed, were you to magically swap the people around, the Chinese might do better with the American system than Americans do, and Americans do worse with the Chinese situation than the Chinese.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.28.14 at 10:31 pm

4. Big population, so more stuff for the elite to steal

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.28.14 at 10:44 pm

Patrick Chovanek’s twitter feed has lots of bearish links on China, for those who are into that sort of thing. He’s apparently some sort of right-winger, but still.

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Bernard Yomtov 12.28.14 at 10:48 pm

Ze Kraggash,

Of course it has been following Keynesian policies.

Regular, steady-state spending, whether on social welfare or the military, has little tpo do with the Keynesian approach to a recession.

Bob McManus,

Yomtov is just channeling Krugman.

Is it your opinion that Krugman has nothing useful to contribute to a discussion of Keynesian policies and their application?

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Bruce Wilder 12.28.14 at 11:17 pm

I don’t see much understanding of China’s model on this thread, but one thing I have observed is that one can buy an almost-iPhone in China for about $200, because there are guys there making them in their garages, because the parts are made in China and readily available. That cannot happen so readily anymore in the U.S. A (former) blue-collar worker can get a payday loan or credit-card debt pretty easily though.

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Plume 12.28.14 at 11:34 pm

China makes the products for dozens of tech giants now. They pay workers 70 cents an hour so American corporate ownership can make tens of thousands more per hour. Apple, for instance, couldn’t possibly be as profitable, or build up their 161 billion dollar war chest if they couldn’t hire slave labor in China. And that tells us that they’d do the same to workers here if they could.

If they could get away with it, they’d pay Americans 70 cents an hour and drive them to suicide like they do at Foxconn. The desire for massive profit and obscenely high compensation leads to Foxconn — wherever it’s allowed. And when something is “set free” to do as it pleases, that is its “natural” state. That what is is when no one is looking.

Americans are very lucky they haven’t seen the propertarian’s dream come true since the 1920s. They wouldn’t like it as much as they claim to now. It’s Foxconn on the Hudson.

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engels 12.29.14 at 12:03 am

Imagine two people racing up a hill, which gets steeper and steeper as it goes up

Mmmkay

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Anarcissie 12.29.14 at 12:25 am

Who does understand China’s model? I certainly don’t. I have read that the Chinese Politburo are all billionaires, though, which does sound mighty familiar.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.29.14 at 12:40 am

Here’s an interesting link about how they just make up the numbers.
http://ineteconomics.org/china-economics-seminar-0/short-history-china-s-doubtful-gdp

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mattski 12.29.14 at 12:53 am

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Brett Dunbar 12.29.14 at 1:12 am

China has got such a high rate of economic growth as it is playing catchup. We, for whatever reason, have got a huge technological and economic lead. China can use shortcuts, as they can skip technologies we used and since superseded, they can go directly to the technology we have now. A lot of poorer countries are for example skipping landlines and going with a purely mobile phone infrastructure. Landlines are a lot more expensive to install and require a lot more infrastructure but could be done with a significantly lower level of technology.

Economic development increases pay. Initially Shanghai had a substantial investment in textiles, very much a low tech low skill labour intensive industry. The influx of investment from other industries eventually priced textiles out of the area. As higher skill industries moved in the textile industry migrated up river.

China had an interesting method of phasing out state control and moving to a market based system, the subsidies to loss-making state enterprises was frozen while privately owned businesses were allowed to operate fairly freely. With rapid economic growth and the state sector remaining about the same size it has come to account for a much smaller share of the economy. Most of the communist dictatorships have engaged in transitions to a market economy. North Korea being the main exception.

Russia isn’t really a capitalist state, the lack of rule of law, the arbitrary nature of the government and insecure property rights, large scale market distortions such as subsidies and tariffs and other privileges to the politically favoured mean that it lacks well functioning markets. One of the things the EU has been able to do is requiring applicants to import a large body of commercial law and technical regulation it has assisted in setting up functioning markets in those countries. One of the issues in the trouble last year was a desire to do this in the Ukraine.

It has been said that the Russian oligarchs behave more like the capitalist class in Marxist theory than like actual capitalists.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 1:13 am

#629 Rich Puchalsky

China is also capable of taking on projects that the U.S. is too feeble to do any more.

We still have the technologists who could do it. Just, if you put your money into finance/insurance the more you invest the smaller the expected variance in outcomes. But if you put it into research, you can expect widely variable outcomes.

Is it better to put your money into a reasonably sure thing, or should you put it into something that is likely to fail, but if it succeeds it will give you the opportunity to pioneer a new business you are not qualified to manage?

Our smaller companies are undercapitalized, and our bigger ones figure they can buy whatever new technology they want once it’s proven out.

Meanwhile, China can subsidize any of their industries they want, including innovative ones. Our comparative advantage comes in industries that China does not subsidize. Why would US free-enterprise compete well against subsidized industries, in the short run? If they have inefficient subsidized industries then we can wait until they stop getting subsidized, and then develop competitors that take right over. Like we did with TVs and computer chips and steel and so on.

China is run by people who were trained in communist economics. In the short run they accept foreign investment to make things they sell in foreign markets. Would they at some point nationalize away US ownership in their industries? Now while they need US investment and US sales. Not until they allow the US dollar to devalue to the point our investments and our demand aren’t something they much need.

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Bruce Wilder 12.29.14 at 1:31 am

Who does understand China’s model?

I think we can now safely rule out J Thomas.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 1:40 am

Bruce Wilder, please tell us the facts that rule me out. Not that I’m claiming to understand them, but your true facts would surely be useful.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 3:45 am

Brett,

Russia isn’t really a capitalist state, the lack of rule of law, the arbitrary nature of the government and insecure property rights, large scale market distortions such as subsidies and tariffs and other privileges to the politically favoured mean that it lacks well functioning markets. One of the things the EU has been able to do is requiring applicants to import a large body of commercial law and technical regulation it has assisted in setting up functioning markets in those countries. One of the issues in the trouble last year was a desire to do this in the Ukraine.

Capitalism is an economic system, not a political one. It’s a completely different animal from government, though it is entirely dependent upon government to support it, sustain it and bail it out of its inevitable crises. And because it’s an economic system, and not a political system, a malfunctioning government in no way demonstrates the lack of its existence. Capitalism can exist right along with all kinds of different political systems, as was the case in Nazi Germany and all the Fascist countries of that era. They all had capitalist economies, private ownership of the means of production, private ownership outside of that, with business owners exploiting workers, appropriating the surplus value created by those workers and so on.

And, the structure of capitalism itself, being top down, autocratic, anti-democratic, and anti-egalitarian, lends itself quite well to all kinds of sordid politics, as its Grow or Die imperative forces capitalists to battle for market share, and often by any means necessary. Grow or Die, profits, exploitation of workers . . . the internal logic of capitalism means it must battle against democratic forces at all times, and it seeks to silence them, or buy them off, or at least hold them off for some never to be seen future reckoning.

That Russia’s transition from State Capitalism (the USSR period) to right-libertarian capitalism meant roughly 15 million Russians would die is no surprise, nor is the corruption and the other maladies you mention. But it’s definitely capitalism. Russia is now a neoliberal, propertarian hell hole for most Russians, which is the logical path for it to take whenever capitalism is left to its own devices.

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Ze Kraggash 12.29.14 at 8:21 am

Bernard Yomtov 643 “Regular, steady-state spending, whether on social welfare or the military, has little to do with the Keynesian approach to a recession.”

And I’m saying that Europe is already keynesed up the wazoo, by their welfare state, that didn’t exist 80 years ago. It’s a different environment.

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Brett Dunbar 12.29.14 at 11:18 am

I think there is your misconception. Capitalism requires an appropriate legal framework to function well, for example rule of law. Russia lacks the appropriate legal framework for a well functioning market, the lack of a well functioning market makes it not capitalist. It is more corporatist. There isn’t really any terribly consistent or ell thought out theory behind Russian market manipulation it’s all pandering to various special interests. Individual businesses want to exact monopoly rent by excluding the normal operation of the market from their sector over time you can end with a situation where you have a corporatist not a capitalist economy.

The democratic states seem to be better at maintaining the appropriate institutions, such as fair and neutral courts. Capitalism on historical evidence is innately pro-democracy. Democracies are a lot better at keeping the institutional framework. It can work in a dictatorship, it is more reliable with democracy.

Using the term “state capitalism” indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what capitalism means. It is only ever used to describe the most extreme form of command economy where no competitive markets operate at all. Capitalism is used purely as a snarl word and is not remotely an appropriate description.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 1:33 pm

#655 Ze Kraggash

Bernard Yomtov 643 “Regular, steady-state spending, whether on social welfare or the military, has little to do with the Keynesian approach to a recession.”

And I’m saying that Europe is already keynesed up the wazoo, by their welfare state, that didn’t exist 80 years ago. It’s a different environment.

We’ve demonstrated that we cannot agree about definitions for Marxism, communism, and socialism.

Is it surprising that now we demonstrate we cannot agree about definitions for capitalism, Keynsianism, and state capitalism also?

Perhaps if we go long enough we will show that we cannot agree about the meaning of mercantilism, physiocracy, feudalism, or hunting-and-gathering.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 1:36 pm

#656 BD

Individual businesses want to exact monopoly rent by excluding the normal operation of the market from their sector over time you can end with a situation where you have a corporatist not a capitalist economy.

….

Using the term “state capitalism” indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what capitalism means. It is only ever used to describe the most extreme form of command economy where no competitive markets operate at all. Capitalism is used purely as a snarl word and is not remotely an appropriate description.

So are you saying that whenever a capitalist system devolves into monopoly, it is no longer capitalist?

Do we need government to prevent monopolies? Or does natural capitalism prevent monopoly and only government can create it? Something else?

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Chris Warren 12.29.14 at 1:40 pm

Val

Why did you incorrectly quote me as saying:

“Marx … supported distributing wealth according to productivity under socialism, and then distributing wealth according to need under communism. Neither is egalitarian.”

without the important qualifier:

If there is an equality for Marxists – it is a moral equality that only arises under advanced communism.

Distribution “based on need” means different people get different allocations – this is morally just and desirable and should occur when civilisation reaches a high enough level. For example, blind people need different amounts of wealth than sighted people. Old people need different amounts of wealth than young children or young adults. People with many dependents need different amounts of wealth than those with no dependents etc etc.

Socialism is not based on such distribution – true advanced communism is.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 1:48 pm

Brett @656,

You are seriously confused, and mostly stuck in a fantasy world where “capitalism” is this wondrous and virtuous thing, encapsulating all you hold dear. It’s just an economic system, and the worst yet developed for reasons given dozens of times in this thread alone.

Yes, capitalism requires Big Government. It needed that to get off the ground in England in the 18th century. It needs powerful central governments to sustain it. It needed mostly American government to expand throughout the globe. It can’t live without Big Government. But there is absolutely no connection between it and “democracy,” other than the fact that it is diametrically opposed to the concept. If it were “pro-democratic” as you maintain, it wouldn’t have such a rabid history of fighting against every democratic check on its power, and it wouldn’t have such a long history of buying elections (and “regulatory capture”). It also wouldn’t have such a long history of suppressing unions, killing union advocates, beating up union activists, sicking its own private forces on them when needed, etc. And unions, of course, are only a small step in the direction of a democratized work place. They are not the real thing.

Capitalism is fundamentally opposed to democracy, both within individual capitalist operations, and when those capitalist operations unite to further their interests. It is based on apartheid, wherein the few rule the many, and the few rule the many who produce what the few need to get rich. Those workers don’t get a vote. Society doesn’t get a vote. We don’t get to vote out CEOs, or bad corporations, or the system itself. We don’t have a democratic say in capitalism’s existence, and we never got to vote on its establishment here.

As for Russia. Malfunctioning markets don’t mean that capitalism doesn’t exist. And while you are correct that a stable society is necessary for optimal functioning of markets, you are wrong to conclude that if they don’t function well, it can’t be “capitalism.” No economic system has ever escaped malfunctions, and no economic system prior to capitalism has had more crises, or deeper ones. Depressions, recessions, bailouts galore, bubbles, busts, massive bank scandals, etc. etc. have all occurred when capitalism was matched with “liberal democracies” too. Ironically, they occurred less often in the USSR under its state capitalism. And, yes, that’s what they had. Ask Lenin.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 2:02 pm

J Thomas,

A key Marxian text on the issue of Monopoly Capitalism . . .

Capitalism naturally moves toward monopoly. It’s the normal desire for any business. No capitalist in their right mind wants to “compete” for market share. They want to own that market. And the natural tendency is for companies with deeper pockets and more resources to force their competitors out of the markets, usually on price. This is what is happening, basically, with falling oil prices right now.

There are some competing interests, of course, fighting against monopolies, and governments, at times, fight them too. Ours used to, but basically gave up back in the early 70s. We haven’t done any trust busting for ages. But there are also corporate interests who collude with one another to prevent the obvious appearance of monopolies, while maintaining their effects. Three or four massive multi-nationals own most of the electronic media in America, for instance. Three or four financial houses control most of Wall Street. Those are defacto monopolies. Pretty much every industry is dominated by just a few players, who control more and more of the business landscape. Microsoft controls nearly 90% of the OS market, etc. etc.

Monopoly is the logical outcome of the capitalist process. Governments are pretty much the only thing in the way of them, and lately, they aren’t putting much of a fight.

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Bernard Yomtov 12.29.14 at 2:18 pm

J. Thomas,

Is it surprising that now we demonstrate we cannot agree about definitions for capitalism, Keynsianism, and state capitalism also?

It is surprising to me that commenters can talk about Keynesianism without apparently having the slightest idea what it’s all about. It’s not a matter of simple disagreement. Ze Kraggash’s notions are simply wrong on a basic level. Europe is not “Keynesed up the wazoo.”

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Bernard Yomtov 12.29.14 at 2:21 pm

Plume,

Capitalism naturally moves toward monopoly. It’s the normal desire for any business. No capitalist in their right mind wants to “compete” for market share. They want to own that market. And the natural tendency is for companies with deeper pockets and more resources to force their competitors out of the markets, usually on price. This is what is happening, basically, with falling oil prices right now.

Just because businesses would liketo be monopolies does not mean they inevitably, or even often, succeed.

And no, that’s not what’s happening with falling oil prices.

664

Plume 12.29.14 at 2:32 pm

Bernard @663,

If left unchecked, yes, that is what capitalism naturally leads to. Monopoly, oligopoly, plutocracy. If all capitalist entities were equal, it would at least theoretically be much more difficult to accomplish, if not impossible. But they aren’t close to being equal, except for at the very, very top. Again, see the link to Monopoly Capital by Baran and Sweezy.

The only thing standing in the way of that baked-in force is government action. Government has mostly been inactive along those lines, hence all of the virtual monopolies now in existence. As mentioned.

And, yes, the reason for the falling oil prices is the attempt to drive as many competitors out of the market as possible. If the Saudis, for instance, wanted to push prices back up, they could. Easily. All they would need to do is reduce production enough to send shock waves around the world. This would impact both supply and speculation/futures trading, driving prices back up. The Saudis have deep enough pockets, and have diversified enough, that they can handle the lower prices in order to kill upstarts in fossil fuels and make it seem less important for Green startups to come online . . . . thus diverting capital away from them.

And, of course, there is another way to jack up prices. Start another war in the Middle East. That may be coming, once the powers that be give the green light.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 2:38 pm

Bernard,

We agree about Europe and Keynes. They left him in the dust, as we did, roughly speaking in the very early 1970s.

Interesting article here about how even some socialist parties have embraced austerity.

Socialist in Name Only.

Excerpt:

The SI continues hobbling along, but major members like the British and Dutch Labour parties have downgraded their status to observers and have indicated their desire to pursue international cooperation through the PA.

The shift to the right of SI parties hasn’t paid off, even in narrowly electoral terms. Its members in Europe, many once regular governing parties, have seen their vote shares steadily decline. From being able to win nearly 50 percent of the vote in the immediate postwar years, for instance, the British Labour Party is trying simply to win a plurality of seats in 2015.

That the SI has survived two world wars would come as a shock to Lenin, Luxemburg, and other members of the Zimmerwald Left that denounced the capitulation of the French socialists and German social democrats in 1914. But survival doesn’t equal vitality. The SI has proven itself not only incapable of challenging capitalism, but even of combatting neoliberalism.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 2:47 pm

#662 Bernard Yomtov

“Is it surprising that now we demonstrate we cannot agree about definitions for capitalism, Keynsianism, and state capitalism also?”

It is surprising to me that commenters can talk about Keynesianism without apparently having the slightest idea what it’s all about. It’s not a matter of simple disagreement. Ze Kraggash’s notions are simply wrong on a basic level. Europe is not “Keynesed up the wazoo.”

Sure. If you look at what Keynes said, it was not like that.

But what a whole lot of people mean by “Keynesian” is “government buying stuff on credit”.

Since the obvious opposing view is “government should never buy anything on credit”, there is no need to look at the details of exactly when or why Keynes would say the government should buy on credit.

The logic is very simple and easy to follow. Governments that run deficits point to Keynes for justification. But government deficits are never ever justified, so the governments are wrong to do that. Therefore Keynes is wrong. So it doesn’t really matter exactly what he said.

Besides, when has a government that claimed to follow Keynesian practices ever actually done what Keynes said? They’re doing it wrong, every one of them, just like all the governments that have claimed to support capitalism or socialism or communism.

So what’s the surprise? Not like you’re some spring chicken that’s never been around the block before. This is at least the fourth time on this thread alone.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 2:55 pm

Keynes said spend on credit only when the private sector is contracting or suffering through weak recoveries.

He said put away the credit card once the private sector is in a self-sustaining recovery, and no longer needs government to prime the pump. He said pay down debt when that happens. As in, it’s just a counter-cyclical measure, and never, ever a permanent policy.

Keynes was correct as far as that goes, except for the part about a self-sustaining private sector. It’s never that. It will always be dependent upon government to keep it afloat. So it’s more a matter of degrees of obvious need, rather than the constant underlying, never-vanishing need.

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bob mcmanus 12.29.14 at 2:59 pm

There is a dispute about whether Keynes’ original are better represented by “pump priming” or simulus to get out of downturns and recessions (New Keynesianism)…

…or by “automatic stabilizers,” e.g. unemployment benefits, social security, foodstamps, and ideally job guarantees or basic income (Minsky big-time post-keynesianism), maybe NGDP targeting.

Support for both can be found in holy writ, but the ignorance of Keynes is not demonstrated by someone who says welfare or social capitalism is not fully Keynesian. Part of the difference is in the purpose of the welfare state, which changed to a degree after the Great Depression from pacifying the workforce to managing the economy.

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Brett Dunbar 12.29.14 at 3:13 pm

@658

So are you saying that whenever a capitalist system devolves into monopoly, it is no longer capitalist?

Yes, it’s one of the possible failure modes. Capitalism involves a market based system, in the absence of well functioning competitive markets you don’t have a capitalist system.

Do we need government to prevent monopolies?

Yes, it’s one of the major functions of the state, maintaining a well ordered state with a fairly administered legal system. Democratic states seem to be better at it, which probably has something to do with why democracies are better at capitalism. Having fairly aggressive prosecution of price fixing allows the market to function well even with a fairly small number of players, for example the supermarkets.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 3:14 pm

@668,

True. FDR’s New Deal was a compromise between a resurgent left and establishment forces. It was his way of saying to those establishment forces, “You can deal with me, or the guys with the pitchforks to my left.”

It was the centrist position, seen today by all too many conservatives as “far left.” Trying to placate both “sides.”

In a sense, that compromise, which made no one happy, was the end of the left. Keynes was a major player. He wanted to save capitalism from itself, and seemed to believe in its ability to do the things that Marx said could not be done until we rid ourselves of profit, capitalism and ruling classes. Like, reducing our work hours and living lives of relative leisure. He thought we could do this and still maintain employer/employee relationships and working to make others rich. That was never logical.

Social safety net as a way to prevent actual revolution. Yep. And if propertarians get what they say they want — to wipe that net out — we’re going to see how effective it was as a mode of suppression. In its absence, the folks with the pitchforks, regardless of ideology, will be back.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 3:20 pm

Brett,

You are saying that governments are necessary in order to prevent capitalism from forming monopolies. I agree. But the obvious logical deduction from there isn’t the one you’re making.

If capitalism forges monopolies when unchecked, that is capitalism naked, fully itself, fully actualized. If Joe Bob is naturally a bully, and only prevented from being who he naturally is by external forces — parents and other authorities — and they get out of his way for a time, and he bullies others, as is his wont . . . . it’s still Joe Bob. It’s Joe Bob with or without those authorities.

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Brett Dunbar 12.29.14 at 4:07 pm

The logically obvious deduction I’m making is that if capitalism functions best in a framework, such as rule of law and effective competition policy, that is best provided in a democracy then capitalism has an inherent pro-democratic bias. This seems to fit the observed facts, the richest and most successful capitalist states are all democracies with strong commitments to rule of law.

Capitalism needs a state both powerful enough to save capitalism from the capitalists while simultaneously being honest and impartial enough to not abuse that power, democracy is pretty good at this. In dictatorships it is rather hard for the dictator to avoid the temptation to abuse power.

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stevenjohnson 12.29.14 at 4:22 pm

The rule of law includes international law, the moral custom of the nations of the world, too. And according to the US Constitution, treaty is the law of the land as well. Without special mental reservations, it is hard to say that the US, the richest (average standard of living is not the same thing) and most successful (most powerful by far) capitalist state demonstrates strong commitment to the rule of law. Especially mental reservations about crimes against peace.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 4:25 pm

#672 Brett Dunbar

The logically obvious deduction I’m making is that if capitalism functions best in a framework, such as rule of law and effective competition policy, that is best provided in a democracy then capitalism has an inherent pro-democratic bias.

I fully agree with what I think you’re trying to say. Capitalism works better for most people with democracy than with other forms of government.

I have a quibble with the way you say it. Capitalism itself does not have a pro-democracy bias. It’s like, a bull will prefer to do whatever he likes, charging at potential enemies and breeding his herd of cows. He will likely be most productive for his owner if he is instead castrated at a young age and raised to pull plows etc. This does not at all mean that male cattle have an inherent pro-castration bias.

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Anarcissie 12.29.14 at 4:41 pm

Brett Dunbar 12.29.14 at 4:07 pm @ 672 — In the phrase ‘capitalism functions best’, some unspecified values are being imported under the term ‘best’. For many people, ‘best’ might mean something like stable, well-understood, moderately ameliorating circumstances of life. However, the kind of people to get into positions of great power do not have these values, or they would not get into positions of great power. They are rather people who strongly desire to dominate and exploit other people, and have the talents to do it while defeating others of their kind. On a state level, people of the second kind want ‘capitalism’, or whatever political-economic system they command may be called, to produce military, political, and economic power so that they can dominate, exploit, push around, and if necessary, destroy other states. That kind of result might well be better served by a highly centralized, highly integrated, strongly authoritarian arrangement — the sort of thing we observe when Western liberal states have gotten into major wars, and when other states have leaders who consider themselves permanently at war.

In short, there is one ‘best’ for the sheep, and another for the wolves. I prefer not to confuse them.

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Brett Dunbar 12.29.14 at 4:48 pm

The US has rule of law. The courts are pretty consistent in how it is interpreted. It’s not perfect, but the courts don’t act in an arbitrary manner and laws are enforced in a mostly impartial way. In a lot of poorer countries laws exist partly to shake people down for bribes and partly in order to persecute those competing with the politically favoured. So you get a lot of corrupt selective enforcement against the politically disfavoured.

The argument is that well functioning markets are most easily and consistently achieved with democracy. So if you want well functioning markets you have a fairly direct incentive to support democracy as democratic states are far better at controlling corruption..

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Bernard Yomtov 12.29.14 at 4:58 pm

J Thomas,

But what a whole lot of people mean by “Keynesian” is “government buying stuff on credit”.

They are mistaken. It is pointless to discuss Keynesian policies with them.

Bob Mcmanus,

There is a dispute about whether Keynes’ original are better represented by …

It need not be an either/or situation. The automatic stabilizers are helpful, but may be far from all that is needed. And if benefits are reduced, or offset by other spending cuts in the name of austerity then they obviously don’t do the job at all.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 5:03 pm

Brett,

You completely misunderstand the relationship between liberal democracies and capitalism. For some unknown reason, you want to credit capitalism for the democratic checks in place which try to reduce its ill effects.

Liberal democracies keep capitalism afloat by preventing its natural processes from following its own internal logic: Turn everything into Foxconn. As in, destroy its own consumer base through the pursuit of ever cheaper labor.

Capitalism concentrates money at the very top, by stripping it from everyone else — and natural resources from the earth. Over time, this can’t help but kill the consumer base needed to keep capitalist businesses going. Obviously, if no one can afford to buy capitalist products but the very rich, the system collapses. Liberal democracies do just enough redistribution to prevent this under normal circumstances, and when its dams are burst — as they were in 2008 — it bails out the system from the top.

If, however, governments decided to end social welfare supports, plus public goods and services overall, and move to an all private political economy — a “minarchy” as propertarians would want — then the consumer base would evaporate, and we’d likely have revolution, too.

You confuse liberal democratic efforts to save capitalism from itself with some sort of kinship or moral equivalence.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 5:10 pm

To me, the efforts by those liberal democracies to endlessly (groundhog day) save a system that requires endless checks on its power . . . . to support a system that requires so much extreme maintenance and mitigation . . . is nutz. Our time and energy would be far better spent coming up with alternatives that don’t require permanent vigilance, mitigation, force, offsets, supports, bailouts, etc. etc.

Again, capitalism is like cigarettes. Conservatives say smoke them without a filter. Liberals say put filters on to mitigate for the harmful effects.

Those of us who are anticapitalists say it’s far more logical to just get rid of the cigarettes.

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mud man 12.29.14 at 5:15 pm

Capitalism needs …

This is bad group selection. There is no “capitalism” there is only “capitalists”, a category of people who pursue self-interest according to that given framework. Therefore those individuals have only a tactical, never an ethical, interest in “democracy”. By definition: if they acquire such an interest, they rather function as environmentalists or holy rollers or whatever.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 5:41 pm

#678 Plume

Liberal democracies keep capitalism afloat by preventing its natural processes from following its own internal logic: Turn everything into Foxconn. As in, destroy its own consumer base through the pursuit of ever cheaper labor.

Capitalism concentrates money at the very top, by stripping it from everyone else — and natural resources from the earth. Over time, this can’t help but kill the consumer base needed to keep capitalist businesses going. Obviously, if no one can afford to buy capitalist products but the very rich, the system collapses.

It doesn’t necessarily have to fail for capitalists.

Say that mass markets collapse. If you can hire enough mercenaries, private police and for that matter public police to keep the unemployed from successful revolution, and keep enough of a mass market going to provide for your security forces and your remaining workers, then what’s the problem?

The capitalists could continue to produce all the luxury goods they want for themselves, and pretty good stuff for their security force, and enough scraps to keep a dole going to keep some of the unemployed pacified while the rest are liquidated, it could just keep on working.

I don’t say that can necessarily work, but I think it has a better chance when productivity is high and you don’t need many workers to produce what you need. Also the smaller the security force you need to keep the public down, the better it would work.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 5:58 pm

J Thomas,

You’re assuming that workers would go along with all of that, once the rug has been pulled out from under them.

Capitalists don’t make those products themselves. They hire people to do the work for them. If the shit ever really hits the fan, capitalists aren’t going to stick around for the folks with the pitchforks. They’re not especially known for their bravery in the face of overwhelming odds — which is why they always try to stack the odds in their favor.

I think they’d hightail it to more amenable locales.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.29.14 at 6:35 pm

Following up on an earlier comment of mine that everybody ignored, here’s a google search for Chovanec’s recent tweets on China:
https://www.google.com/#q=site:twitter.com/prchovanec+china&tbs=qdr:y,sbd:1

And I liked some of the “featured posts” on his old blog. https://chovanec.wordpress.com

I mean, what the hell do I know, but a lot of the China hype just sounds very Dow 36,000ish to me.

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Brett Dunbar 12.29.14 at 7:27 pm

Plume you really don’t understand capitalism or markets well enough to make a useful contribution. The checks are a necessary and integral part of the system. Capitalism needs a specific legal and institutional framework and that framework is best provided by liberal democratic government. All economic systems exist in a legislative and legal framework. The one that best suits capitalism is liberal democracy.

A lot of Russian oligarchs have made preparations for what happens if they have a falling out with Putin or the Russian economy collapses. Many of them have acquired substantial assets in liberal democracies, such as Britain. The late Boris Berezovsky actually obtained political asylum in the UK after he fell out with Putin. Funny how a bunch of men who behave like a bad Marxist caricature of a capitalist choose some of the oldest and most strongly established democracies as their favoured refuge if things go wrong. They made their money somewhere the government isn’t really trustworthy and keep ti somewhere the government is trustworthy. Russia is a pretty good example of capitalism failing due to an arbitrary and unaccountable government and a lack of rule of law.

Businesses have an immediate interest in avoiding competition in their own sector; they want to engage in rent-seeking. They have a more diffuse interest in having competition in sectors they do business with; they want to prevent rent seeking by others. In order for capitalism to function businesses have to accept competition in their own sector as the price of getting competition in other sectors For broadly this reason trade deals are negotiated in secret and then presented as a package. Special interests that might object to deregulation in their own sector are prepared to back a deal if they gain more from the deregulation of other sectors than they loses from the deregulation of their own sector. If the deregulation of a sector is discussed in isolation it is a lot more vulnerable to special interests.

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Bruce Wilder 12.29.14 at 8:22 pm

J Thomas @ 653

I want to apologize for my snippy tone @ 652 — it was uncalled for. I enjoy many of your well-reasoned comments. I do feel some irritation, which I’ve expressed before, when you spin off into the consideration of possibilities, unconstrained by facts that might be easily ascertained. Patiently explicating the relevant facts and their analytic implications might be the responsible thing to do, but the discussion of China up to that point had been no better informed than your comment, and constituted a thread derail at best — I didn’t want to do the work; I wanted to express my childish pique at a discussion that didn’t rise to a level that would interest me. It was rude. And, really, what you said, as far as the previously linked newspaper article about Chinese solar panels was concerned, was factual enough, and as on point as anything can be in a thread derail; I had nothing to complain about in regard to your particular comment.

Re: Marx and capital, one of the features of capital investment that gets lost from our intuition, and which is relevant to China’s development path and the price China has to pay for development, is the immiserating potential of capital investment. There are two components to this potential immiseration. Capital accumulation can reduce current consumption, by diverting resources from production for current consumption to producing capital. The second is harder to grasp, apparently: it is that capital investment transforms costs and values. The worker, who could make a good living with a hand-loom before, cannot after investment in automated looms has changed the cost and value of the products of looms.

Marx was at pains to explain this paradoxical result of capitalist development, this contradiction of capitalism: that the powers of productive potential should be expanded several fold and, yet, at the end, workers that could previously make a good living by their labor would find themselves unable to find opportunities to either earn a decent wage or to produce goods for market profitably on their own motion. You could say Marx was trying to find a mode of understanding that would allow the working class some feasible alternative to being simple-minded Luddites.

One element of this transformative immiseration was clearly the role of appropriation. Capitalists appropriate the means of production in a way parallel to the way the feudal monarchs and their vassals, who became landed aristocrats and gentry in a later age, had appropriated the productive power of land into fiefs. A distinctively capitalist element in the transformation was the role of money and finance, and, of course, periodic financial crises or crises of “overproduction” and general glut.

The logic of this transformative character of capital investment applies in international trade as well, but the intuition is often missing from, or obscured in, mainstream, neoclassical discussion of international trade and development. The pioneer in a field or industry which opens up to increasing returns to scale gains a large margin of economic rents and the capability to supply products or services at much lower marginal unit cost. The pioneer’s economic rents make it economically feasible for the pioneer to invest in capital for continued improvement in techniques and to expand capacity — to reproduce its own structure — but the same transformation makes it much less economically feasible for the follower to profitably make the same sort of investments. In neoclassical terms, the terms of trade shift in favor of the pioneer.

This shift in the terms of trade is implicit, but obscured in Ricardo’s argument for free trade. If, like Britain in the early 19th century, advanced development makes your country better at everything, free trade is hugely advantageous, because the terms of trade will tend to shift in your favor, even to and beyond the point at which free trade may immiserate less developed trading partners, which find no profit in the lines of business with the greatest potential for improved productivity, given the prices and costs achieved by the pioneer in those lines.

Brett’s hill-climbing metaphor is naïve, in that the hill is a different sort of challenge for the follower than for the pioneer, but by no means can it be said to be an altogether easier challenge. The success of the pioneer creates a new sort of strategic challenge; the follower will have to overcome the competitive power of the pioneer, and possibly make some kind of strategic bargain with the pioneer, a kind of pay-off. Following someone’s tail lights also involves eating their exhaust, to put it poetically.

China has accumulated capital on a massive scale with a fantastic savings rate, but also by making bargains with the Western capitalist devil, which massively distort the global financial and commercial system in ways that make investment in Chinese industry profitable and nearly risk-free, while making investment in, say, U.S. manufacturing financially unprofitable. The management of the exchange rate attracts some attention, and the related blowing of the U.S. housing bubble is sometimes noticed, sometimes not.

The Chinese have plugged into the commercial distribution networks of global multinationals, where a large part of economic rents are lodged; I’m referring to Sony and Philips and Intel and kindred multinational giants, and in the long-run, they appear to plan the creation of Chinese equivalents like Lenovo and Haier, which will, in time, claim their share of distribution rents. They’ve made deals with the Wal-Marts that are very profitable for Wal-Mart in service of making investment in Chinese manufacturing financially profitable. And, so on and so on.

I don’t particularly want to re-ignite the China derail. It does seem to me that the pattern and means of China’s development could be given a much more interesting and informative narrative analysis in a Marxist spirit that took the inherent dynamics and difficulties of capitalist development and its immiserating potential more seriously.

Even the kind of liberal institutional analysis that I could own could make much better use of the apparent facts, if we had a better common understanding of what it is that makes rich countries rich and rich people rich than either a simple-minded assumption that the rich countries steal from or exploit the poor countries in order to be rich, or the equally simple-minded notion that rich people are never making poor people poor.

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Bruce Wilder 12.29.14 at 8:27 pm

Anarcissie @ 675: In short, there is one ‘best’ for the sheep, and another for the wolves.

And, the shepherds?

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bob mcmanus 12.29.14 at 9:40 pm

the creation of Chinese equivalents like Lenovo and Haier, which will, in time, claim their share of distribution rents.

FWIW, what I read this week (Peter Katzenstein) said that the historical economic model for “Greater China,” meaning the Chinese East Asian merchant diaspora was precisely rent-seeking. It, Arrighi et al, also says that Imperial China was largely merchant driven and controlled instead of state or gov’t, merchants determined barriers and entries to competition and weights and measures for instance, for those who say Capitalism needs a strong democratic state. Though maybe then we need to revisit our definition of capitalism.

Also, FWIW, it said the Japanese plan or system was always to be at the leading edge (and share as little as possible) of technologies (compared to its neighbors or near competitors, not the US) even at the cost of growth, profits, or efficiency. This is becoming very difficult.

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bob mcmanus 12.29.14 at 9:55 pm

To wave at the original topic, to me 687 is not all but a very important part of Marxian analysis: always look at history and facts on the ground first (historical materialism) before trying to apply theory, say of comparative advantage or regimes of accumulation.

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Ze Kraggash 12.29.14 at 10:01 pm

Bernard, both the US and EU run large budget deficits, have a large debt (around 100% Gdp), and government spending, of redistributional nature, close to 50% of the GDP. That is their standard MO. If they were to pay off the debt and maintain balanced budget, I assume everything would’ve fallen apart in 2 seconds. You’re objecting to calling this MO keynesian? I don’t see why, but fine, the word is not important.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 11:07 pm

Brett,

Sorry, but I understand it all too well, which is why I’m an anticapitalist. As to your own pollyannaish view of capitalism. I really haven’t bumped into that in a long, long time. It’s not even normal for conservatives to see capitalism in such a glowing light. They’re generally past that and make their stand on things like “it fits human nature and our lust for competition, greed and battle.” Your own view is very childish, as if you’re gazing up into the eyes of your adored big teddy bear. And, strangely enough, you hold a similarly childish view of “liberal democracies” and the way they actually function. It’s as if you weren’t aware of the massive corruption that has always been a part of it, or its role forcing capitalism down our throats in the first place, as already linked to.

Good interview on Moyers regarding money in politics.

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Bruce Wilder 12.29.14 at 11:12 pm

Ah, “corruption”!

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Anarcissie 12.29.14 at 11:15 pm

And, the shepherds?

Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field…. (Ezekiel 34:2-5)

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Plume 12.29.14 at 11:20 pm

Bruce,

The worker, who could make a good living with a hand-loom before, cannot after investment in automated looms has changed the cost and value of the products of looms.

This is what Michael Perelman discusses in his must-read The Invention of Capitalism, as cited earlier. A goodly part of the book’s effectiveness comes from his repeated use of the classical economists (in their own words), major and minor, in building that history. Straight from the horse’s mouth, etc.

Aside from ending their ability to self-provide through those home businesses, like the loom, the masses were also kicked off their lands, the commons were “enclosed,” fish and game licenses were altered, ancient holidays ended, and soon enough they were forced into the new factories to work for a pittance. Under highly dangerous conditions.

I haven’t read Wood’s book yet, but it sounds like it amplifies and echoes Perelman’s.

The Origin of Capitalism. The link is to a new and revised version.

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J Thomas 12.29.14 at 11:20 pm

#g85 Bruce Wilder

I want to apologize for my snippy tone @ 652 — it was uncalled for. I enjoy many of your well-reasoned comments. I do feel some irritation, which I’ve expressed before, when you spin off into the consideration of possibilities, unconstrained by facts that might be easily ascertained. Patiently explicating the relevant facts and their analytic implications might be the responsible thing to do, but….

No offense taken. It is not so easy for me to find facts and determine that they are not disinformation intended to fool people, or the sampling biased in ways that don’t fit my needs, etc. When someone who has specialized in the topic is willing to link to the facts they believe, that helps me but I can’t expect them to do that. It’s a gift I can ask for but can’t demand.

Also, I have noticed that on the internet, strangely, if I find a bunch of experts and ask them a question that is hard for laymen but maybe easy for them, possibly someone will answer or likely they’ll ignore it. Say I find the appropriate historians and ask “Did Henry Bolingbroke or Henry V suffer from syphilis?” Maybe somebody will answer, or nobody. But if I instead proclaim “Bolingbroke and Henry V both had syphilis and it explains their behavior” then likely multiple people will tell me why I’m an idiot and present evidence. Then not unlikely other will reply with conflicting evidence, pointing out that I’m an idiot but so are the first ones to respond.

It seems like people do not much want polite thanks for their assistance, they much prefer the opportunity to call somebody an idiot. Why not pay them in the coin they prefer?

Anyway, it would be a good thing if you gave us a few links to data about China that you trust. It’s a side issue to the question how to teach Marx to newbies, but this thread has had lots of side issues.

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Plume 12.29.14 at 11:54 pm

Bruce,

Even the kind of liberal institutional analysis that I could own could make much better use of the apparent facts, if we had a better common understanding of what it is that makes rich countries rich and rich people rich than either a simple-minded assumption that the rich countries steal from or exploit the poor countries in order to be rich, or the equally simple-minded notion that rich people are never making poor people poor.

It’s not “simple-minded” to note the truth. The rich countries did, in fact, steal from and exploit poor countries. We know this to be a fact. And if they didn’t do it in order to be rich, then why on earth did they do it? What was the point if not to increase the wealth of the relevant parties doing the raping and pillaging?

Of course, using the term “rich countries” is simplistic already, because it was never a “country” that did this, as some unified, cohesive block on the map. It was almost always business interests getting various arms of government/certain politicians to do their dirty work for them, in exchange for things hidden or revealed, with people throwing around terms like “national interests” naively or cynically.

Unfortunately, much of the early colonial history is blocked from us, as far as detailed quid pro quo. We have far more insight regarding 20th century and 21st century corruption, like the Mossaddegh coup, sparked by Iranian nationalization of oil production.

Wanting to find some hoped for (but illusionary) balance all the time is itself an “ideological” constraint on the truth.

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J Thomas 12.30.14 at 12:56 am

#695 Plume

It’s not “simple-minded” to note the truth. The rich countries did, in fact, steal from and exploit poor countries. We know this to be a fact.

Yes, but did it make them rich? Or was it a sideshow that helped them hide how they actually got rich? Was it a mistake, that rich countries could sort of afford but that tended to make them poorer?

If you believe that there is only so much wealth to go around then anybody who can take wealth from others will be richer because of it. But we don’t believe that, do we? It isn’t even true that the way a nation gets rich is to corner the gold market. Gold isn’t exactly wealth. It’s mostly only valuable because people who have created wealth are willing to trade for it.

Suppose that foreign wars usually are expensive failures that cost more resources than they provide. If that was true then rich nations could afford more wars and bigger wars than poor nations. Rich nations could equip their armies to have a better chance to win. But that wouldn’t make them richer.

It’s like, wealthier cities can afford to put more money into their football teams and so they are more likely to have winning teams. But a winning football team doesn’t do much to make a city wealthy.

So it seems to me that it would be vitally important for rich nations to exploit poorer nations for vital resources that the rich nations can’t get enough of otherwise. But if it isn’t an essential resource then it’s more likely to be a distraction. Like, if you’re rich enough to take over a banana republic without counting the cost, then you’ll probably exploit their bananas because you can. And if it doesn’t pay the cost of the intervention that’s OK, you’re rich enough that you don’t have to count up the cost of the intervention.

It seems tragic that rich nations could cause lots of suffering in poor nations for no real purpose, basicly on a whim, and not even profit from it. Just a waste for everybody. But I think it might be that way a lot of the time. Maybe most of the time.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.30.14 at 1:00 am

Well, I think now is as good a time as any for that quote by one of my HUAC colleagues that I mentioned before, even though nobody requested it.

“Stalin is a gentile and Trotsky was a Jew… Stalin was educated from the priesthood. The Bible says, teach a child the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart therefrom. It was but natural therefore that when Stalin got into power he should open the churches… Stalin broke up the Comintern… He restored rank and discipline in his army and introduced the incentive payment plan among the men who work in his factories.”

What the hell.

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J. Parnell Thomas 12.30.14 at 1:01 am

Oops, sorry, quote by John Rankin.

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Collin Street 12.30.14 at 1:17 am

It seems tragic that rich nations could cause lots of suffering in poor nations for no real purpose, basicly on a whim, and not even profit from it. Just a waste for everybody. But I think it might be that way a lot of the time. Maybe most of the time.

Well, it’s a common hypothesis that empire is all about using the power of the state for private advantage; the US government and population didn’t get cheaper bananas out of rolling the dominican government [or whatever it was], but the banana barons got to cut their costs and boost their margins. And so forth.

[which would suggest that a more responsively-democratic polity would be less likely to engage in imperialist ventures: fewer over-connected people to set them off]

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Plume 12.30.14 at 1:20 am

It’s not a belief. It’s a fact. Wealth is finite. Natural resources are finite. Our time on earth is finite. Our time to make money is finite. If country X takes resource R from country Y, country Y has less of it — or none at all. Country X is now in possession of more R because another country has less (or no) R.

And again, “country” is too abstract a term to use, but it’s necessary in the short form of a comments section. In reality, entities within that country have more, because another nation now has less in the way of natural resources. The “country” is not really richer for that. Entities within that country are. One could say that the cumulative total of such raping and pillaging gives the appearance that a “country” is now richer, too. But it’s really individuals and companies within it, with the majority of people left out. Even in rich — and now richer — countries.

The stats I posted above on inequality show this. A “country” can be designated “rich” even though the vast majority of people living there are not even remotely so. America is oftentimes called the richest country on earth, but we have an abysmally low median income of roughly 28K for individuals. And if a single individual makes 100K or more, he or she is now well into the top 10% (closer to top 5%) of that nation’s incomes. Well over 90% of the population makes less than 100K, etc.

And, yes, the raping and pillaging has rippling effects within the newly richer “country” that will impact millions. Indirectly, most will be impacted, one way or another. For better or worse. But individual bottom lines can and do escape the massive increases in wealth by the rapers and pillagers.

In short, they did it for the money. They did it to get richer. What other reason is there? If the drivers of colonial rape and pillaging were the main beneficiaries, and the public at large — or the nation, in a sense — paid a price for this eventually — that still doesn’t negate the obvious. The rationale behind it was to get richer. To make the relevant parties involved richer. And in the capitalist system, wealth can buy power as well. So the increase in power is a byproduct.

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Plume 12.30.14 at 1:33 am

J Thomas,

Again, if in the aggregate, a nation, meaning all citizens within its legal boundaries, don’t necessarily gain anything from imperialist ventures, this in no way negates the original rationale. That original rationale was never to help all citizens within that nation, just as a capitalist never starts a business to benefit everyone. They start a business to benefit themselves.

So these imperialist ventures, provoked by various wealthy interests, do their dirty deeds for their own benefit. They don’t have in mind making life better for all the citizens of a particular nation. They seek to benefit themselves, just as any business owner would.

To me, this isn’t a mystery. Pretty much all of our wars, covert and overt, our coup attempts, our skirmishes, our colonial conquests, with the exception of the War of 1812 and WWII (and perhaps a few others), were in the service of private business interests. They were in the service of expanding markets, protecting them, smashing them open. They were in the service of the system that supports the very people who pay for the campaigns of the people who then hold power to do this. It’s all connected. What is now called the donor class doesn’t hand over billions out of the goodness of their hearts. They want something substantial in return. They want a very good ROI, in fact. There are few better ways to accrue great wealth than to steal it from the weak.

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mattski 12.30.14 at 1:34 am

So I guess China is successfully raping and pillaging the Europe and the United States, right Plume? I mean where else is their ever increasing wealth coming from?

Also, too, I have an idea. Let’s get rid of the WAR & HATE system and replace it with the PEACE & LOVE system. It only makes sense.

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mattski 12.30.14 at 1:40 am

Getting that 700 comment feeling.

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Plume 12.30.14 at 1:52 am

Mattski @702,

I never said increases in wealth must come only from colonies. Not even close. It’s a very effective source for foundations of wealth, and can be used to expand and diversify from there. But it’s obviously not the only source available. I never said it was.

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Plume 12.30.14 at 1:57 am

btw, Mattski,

Do you believe colonial powers did not rape and pillage their (and their would be) colonies? And if you admit that this occurred, why do you think they did this? Why do you think they raped and pillaged what are now sometimes called “developing nations”?

Of course, they still do this, but in a much more sophisticated way. Through IMF and World Bank entanglements and forced austerity measures.

Several centuries of vast transfers of wealth from “developing” to “developed” nations. To oversimplify the geography, this has usually been from the south to the north, worldwide.

Why do you think this happened?

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mattski 12.30.14 at 2:10 am

Why do you think this happened?

Wait. We don’t even agree on WHAT happened! “Raped and pillaged” is not a very specific phrase, at least the way you’re throwing it around. Given that serious scholars believe colonization often costed more than it yielded it would seem inappropriate to liken that to raping and pillaging, no? And some of the costs of colonization were capital improvements of infrastructure and etc to the colonies. Is that something you’re willing to acknowledge?

You routinely make sweeping and exaggerated claims, Plume. It reduces your credibility…

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J Thomas 12.30.14 at 2:36 am

#701 Plume

So these imperialist ventures, provoked by various wealthy interests, do their dirty deeds for their own benefit. They don’t have in mind making life better for all the citizens of a particular nation. They seek to benefit themselves, just as any business owner would.

Sure. But it may turn out that even the interests who want the wars fail to make a profit more often than not.

It could be something that rich places tend to do because they can, that does not make them richer.

So if you want to know how they got rich, this might not be the answer.

It’s like, slavery didn’t work all that well, and it couldn’t compete. Wage slavery doesn’t work all that well but nothing has outcompeted it yet. In both cases human labor gets wasted, when it could be producing more wealth.

Using some of the wasted labor to send armies into other nations and collect bananas or whatever is probably very often just more waste. But maybe sometimes it’s important.

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Norwegian Guy 12.30.14 at 2:38 am

This post has 700 comments, and I havn’t read them all. I still want to offer a few observations, and perhaps a off-topic hobby horse or two:

(1) In my opinion, the distinction between Marxist and non-Marxist forms of socialism is much less clear-cut than some commentators here are making it to be. There is nothing wrong or unusual about maintaining Marxism while rejecting communism, and many people have been both Marxists and social democrats. A historic example would be Karl Kautsky, but this kind of view is relatively common on the contemporary left wing as well.

(2) Much is made of how horribly authoritarian Marxists are and were, as opposed to utopian socialists and anarchists. However, utopian socialism was a top-down strategy where a few leaders tried to create socialism from scratch. On the other hand, Marxism connected socialism to the labour movement and its democratic mass parties.

(3) Both in the 19th century and today, anarchism is much more susceptible to vanguardism than a socialist mass party can ever be. As regards violent behavior, these days it’s not unusual that the people behind this consider themselves to belong to some varity of anarchism. The Bakunists of the 19th century weren’t exactly known for their pacifism either. Anarchism didn’t disappear as a major current in the labour movement because of Stalinist repression, but because their working class supporters ditched anarchism in favour of parties that could deliver the goods, i.e. social democracy.

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Brett Dunbar 12.30.14 at 2:40 am

There haven’t been transfers of wealth from poor to rich countries. Mostly what there has been is a massively uneven general increase in wealth. GDP per capita in some countries remained fairly constant at the general pre-industrial level. In a few countries, it began to increase. Initially slowly but continuously and over time a massive gap developed. The rich countries got rich while the poor countries stayed more or less where they started.

Very little of the nineteenth century colonialism had any rational economic motive. Egypt actually went hopelessly bankrupt due to its attempts to conquer Sudan and Ethiopia and ended up under de facto British control. Italy’s conquest of Libya was cripplingly expensive. The partition of Africa was almost entirely about nationalism with smaller elements of suppressing slavery (Zanzibar for example) and the economic interests of certain politically powerful individuals notably Cecil Rhodes and Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold’s behaviour was so appalling that in 1908 under international pressure they confiscated Congo Free State.

Rich countries ended up with colonies because they could afford to waste money on getting them and they looked impressive on the map, they didn’t get rich due to having colonies.

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Plume 12.30.14 at 3:53 am

Mattski @706,

I provided umpteen links to back what I said, and then I collected them all in a single post to make it easier for you and others. Obviously, you didn’t bother to read the articles I used to support what I said. And, no, they aren’t sweeping statements. It’s long-settled history among scholars of colonialism. Europe and America did indeed “rape and pillage” the so-called “developing world,” and that began before one could say it was “developing.”

Did they also build infrastructure along the way? Yes. And who did the vast majority of the work? And how much were they paid for their efforts, and how were they treated?

Indigenous populations. For shit. And like shit.

The massive inequality and imbalance in that arrangement was off the charts and epically immoral. You lack any credibility at all, Mattski, if for no other reason than you won’t admit to the immorality of those arrangements and their results.

Sheeesh. It’s like I’ve stumbled into some discussion by extremely reactionary American cheerleaders from the 1950s, and they actually believe colonialism was benign. Next you’ll be telling me that victims of American and European imperialism got the better end of the deal. Or that slavery was really like it was depicted in Gone With the Wind.

711

Plume 12.30.14 at 3:58 am

J Thomas,

I posted several articles showing how profitable slave labor became with the rise of capitalism. If you don’t like them, please google the subject, and you’ll find more than enough to show how capitalism reinvigorated slavery as a profitable institution. The key to that was the Industrial Revolution and the cotton gin. This made plantation owners very rich, bankers and merchants very rich — throughout America and Britain, especially.

Again, it’s truly stunning to see people in 2014 denying the despicable history of capitalism, especially with regard to slavery, empire, genocide, colonialism and the massive transfer of wealth from the south to the north. It’s. Settled. History.

Except, apparently, for a few people posting on CT.

712

LFC 12.30.14 at 4:38 am

b. mcmanus 687

FWIW, what I read this week (Peter Katzenstein) said that the historical economic model for “Greater China,” meaning the Chinese East Asian merchant diaspora was precisely rent-seeking. It, Arrighi et al, also says that Imperial China was largely merchant driven and controlled instead of state or gov’t

Presumably you’re referring to a collection (i.e. edited volume): could you give the editor’s name (or editors’ names) and/or the title of the book? (I know who Katzenstein and Arrighi are, but an actual citation would be helpful. Otherwise anyone interested, which I am [albeit mildly], will have to waste time searching.)

713

bob mcmanus 12.30.14 at 4:44 am

Arrighi ed, Resurgence of East Asia, though I doubt your sincerity, you’re still just stalking and trolling

The longish article by Kenneth Pomeranz on the comparative history 1700 to date of young women’s labor in China, Japan and Europe was also fantastic

714

Plume 12.30.14 at 5:16 am

Some useful links for those who wish to pursue further studies of Marx, Marxist-humanism, Ecological Marxism, etc. etc. There are many, many “Marxisms,” as there as many, many socialisms. In discussing the subject with Rich earlier, I think it’s pretty clear that too many believe there is only one form.

http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/
This site highlights the work of Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987).

MHI’s ideas and actions, as well as our structure and rules, are guided by the interests of working people and freedom movements of African-Americans and other minorities, women, youth, and all those around the world who are struggling for self-determination in order to freely develop their own human natures. We have no interests separate and apart from theirs. To this end, we open our website to the widest possible dialogue with people around the world. We intend to practice, as well as espouse, a two-way road between our organization and people outside it as essential to developing a single dialectic in the relationship of theory to practice — and as the way to assure the survival of Marxist-Humanism.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/dunayevskaya/works/1965/marx-humanism.htm

With a nod to Bob McManus:

http://monthlyreview.org/2012/02/01/ecological-marxism-in-china/

Ecological Marxism in China
by Zhihe Wang
topics: Marxist Ecology places: Asia

Chinese interest in ecological Marxism has grown increasingly in the past twenty years. Amazingly, it has even become, to some extent, an important part of contemporary Marxism in China. But why has it been so well received? This paper will offer some reasons for this and also point out the challenges now facing ecological Marxism in China.

715

Peter T 12.30.14 at 8:51 am

Again, Brett @790 is being loose with the facts. In, say, 1870 Britain had 70% of the world’s ocean-going shipping, pretty much all marine insurance and broking, a lock on the global coal trade (which powered the shipping), control of almost all the key trade choke-points (Gibraltar, Suez, the Cape, India, Singapore etc with attendant rights and income) and free access to fertile land for surplus population – again generating income (Australian wool, gold, Canadian wheat…), exports for Britain’s manufactures and lessening social tensions. If this was a net loss, it’s hard to see what profit would look like. Cherry-picking some more or less inconsequential African ventures does not make the cut.

All acquired in the course of frequent successful war. The US followed suit across the continent, at even less cost and with greater gain.

716

Plume 12.30.14 at 1:33 pm

This is just one of many cases of that rape and pillage. Read about Roger Casement and the rubber barons in Africa, South Asia and South America. That is classic south to north wealth transfer, with massive human rights abuses and exploitation of indigenous populations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_rubber_boom#Effects_on_indigenous_population

Mario Vargas Llosa tells the story in novel form in Dream of the Celt.

717

J Thomas 12.30.14 at 1:56 pm

#715 Peter T

In, say, 1870 Britain had 70% of the world’s ocean-going shipping, pretty much all marine insurance and broking, a lock on the global coal trade (which powered the shipping), control of almost all the key trade choke-points (Gibraltar, Suez, the Cape, India, Singapore etc with attendant rights and income) and free access to fertile land for surplus population – again generating income (Australian wool, gold, Canadian wheat…), exports for Britain’s manufactures and lessening social tensions. If this was a net loss, it’s hard to see what profit would look like.

That sure makes sense. And so in 1870 Britain was tremendously wealthy. Or anyway somebody in Britain was. The british lower classes, not so much. But Britain had the tremendous wealth necessary to maintain the world’s largest navy (crewed by those lower class sailors who didn’t make much money off it). And rather many low-paid Marines who were still expensive to ship around the world. A great big army, ditto. A whole lot of bureaucrats to run the system. And Britain had tremendous industry that produced lots of stuff they exported on favorable terms.

It’s been claimed that they created a lot of infrastructure in their colonies. But the roads and railroads they built all converged on port cities. If they cared for the welfare of the people they governed they would build roads to help those people trade with each other. Instead they mostly made it easier to trade with the masters.

OK, all that stuff happened, but how well did it work? In WWI the Germans, fighting a two-front war, very nearly beat the British. Germany had hardly any colonial empire. What they had was advanced science and technology. They invested their capital in industry instead of colonies, and they did that very effectively. Or perhaps they benefitted from the local colonialism of the Austro-hungarian empire?

It’s true there’s only so much iron ore and coal and platinum etc to go around, so whoever extracts it the fastest and keeps it away from potential competitors will have more. But surely in 1870 we were nowhere near the limits on any of that. If we wanted more iron or coal etc we could just extract it faster, and nobody lost by that except maybe future generations. My prejudice tells me that colonialism resulted in reduced production compared to a more rational form of exploitation.

Eventually technology helped to make traditional colonialism impractical. When machine guns got cheap, it became expensive for foreign troops to hold onto colonies. The bloodletting and destruction from WWII had a big part in the postwar decolonizing, but beside that colonies had become just too expensive to continue. Maybe before some of them made money for some colonial empires and some were irrelevant trifles, now they plain cost too much. France could not afford Vietnam and Algeria. The Netherlands could not afford Indonesia. The USA could not afford the Philippines and quickly dumped them into the democracy we had been promising for nearly 50 years.

I think it’s an open question whether colonialism paid off for anybody but Britain. It’s an open question whether colonialism paid off for Britain, too. Was it really profitable? Was it profitable considering the opportunity cost, when its expenses could have gone into economic productivity instead?

If it was not directly profitable, did it still achieve a sort of dominance by preventing competitors from developing? A sort of “dog in the manger” strategy?

718

J Thomas 12.30.14 at 2:04 pm

#716 Plume

Read about Roger Casement and the rubber barons in Africa, South Asia and South America. That is classic south to north wealth transfer, with massive human rights abuses and exploitation of indigenous populations.

Yes, and then when WWII came and the USA needed to buy rubber from the Japanese who would not sell, we quickly started producing synthetic rubber. And after the war synthetic rubber kept a big market share.

We could have done that earlier except the market and the capital weren’t there during the Depression.

The world did not really need to keep paisanos on relatively unproductive rubber plantations. We just did it. Because we were not very effective at optimizing stuff with capitalism.

719

Plume 12.30.14 at 2:21 pm

J Thomas @717,

Again, not really sure what “paying off” has to do with it. Just because, in the aggregate, something ends up being not so profitable . . . doesn’t mean the original impetus for the venture wasn’t profit seeking. And given that major business ventures swarmed all over the colonies, it takes some major ideological blinders for anyone to claim profit wasn’t the motive. Why else would the rubber barons, for instance, send their minions to Africa, South Asia and South America, if not for profit? Did they do it because they liked the smell?

Not saying you’re doing this . . . but several people in this discussion seem stuck in grade school, still embracing the happy joy joy myths we were taught, that the “great” nations of the West brought awesome things to the savages, like civilization, and changed their lives for the better in every way.

The process of maturation means casting off those myths, discovering that history isn’t some heroic journey by “great men” within the context of “great countries” doing great things selflessly — for god and country. As you touched upon in your post, not everyone benefits, especially not the working class. But the myths we’re fed from an early edge tell us everyone does — until we get older and we start hearing about the suffering of others. Until we broaden our moral compass we tend to believe things are awesome for everyone, just like a typical American in the upper classes who thinks he or she is in the middle class.

Economic motivations are THE prime motivation for colonialization, and that’s just too obvious. Even when a nation was ruled by a monarch, the thirst for expanded riches in various forms was always at the forefront of extending empire. And with the shift to elected leaders, that did not change, as the people getting them to run in the first place, the people who funded their campaign and remain their party’s financial backers, seek remuneration for their efforts. Nearly everything is driven by economic interests, with few exceptions, when it comes to politics. And empire has fewer of those exceptions than pretty much any other realm of the political.

720

J. Parnell Thomas 12.30.14 at 2:32 pm

The only beans that really make me fart are “ranch beans.” But they taste good, and, of course, and they’re often real cheap, and, of course, my own farts smell OK to me, so I don’t let that hold me back.

721

J. Parnell Thomas 12.30.14 at 2:34 pm

The only beans that really make me fart are “ranch beans.” But they taste good, and they’re often real cheap, and, of course, my own farts smell OK to me, so I don’t let that hold me back.

If you had a preview button this sort of thing wouldn’t be necessary, but you don’t, so it is.

722

J. Parnell Thomas 12.30.14 at 2:35 pm

Oops, sorry, wrong thread.

723

mattski 12.30.14 at 2:44 pm

And, no, they aren’t sweeping statements.

Yak-a-doodle!

*Anyway, always nice to participate in a 500+ thread. Peace to all.

**godoggo, your farts don’t smell nearly as good to me.

724

Plume 12.30.14 at 2:47 pm

Mattski @723,

You stopped in for that?

You could have just belched and saved the trouble.

725

J Thomas 12.30.14 at 3:12 pm

#719 Plume

Economic motivations are THE prime motivation for colonialization, and that’s just too obvious.

Agreed. (Well, there were other motivations that might have had more or less influence sometimes. But put that aside, surely the hope of getting rich was extremely important.)

But I’m interested in a different question. What was it that actually did make nations rich?

Certainly the wealth is not spread equally, but it is spread some. Poor people in the USA do much better than poor people in Brazil or India or Mali. (Unless maybe they’re homeless and nobody much collects statistics about them.)

The USA is still a relatively rich nation. Did it get that way primarily by taking stuff from other nations, or are there other reasons. Clearly it has taken stuff from other nations. But is that the main thing that worked?

I guess a second useful question is how much does it turn out that poor nations are poor because somebody else takes their stuff, and how much is due to other reasons? Clearly Ireland and Scotland have been poor partly because of England. The famines probably wouldn’t have been as bad if it was locals running things. Surely there are other reasons too.

726

Brett Dunbar 12.30.14 at 3:21 pm

We aren’t saying anything about what colonial rule was like. What we are saying was that it was economically marginal. They didn’t produce much benefit to the colonial powers while costing quite a lot to to acquire. Colonies were not the source of Britain’s wealth.

Wars were rarely fought for economic motives, the Opium wars were but even then the winners, Britain in the first, Britain and France in the second did not try to monopolise the benefits. China was required to open its markets to all foreign trade not just British and French trade, Germany for example got the same benefit for no cost.

Britain was a generally benign hegemon during the 19th century, the Royal Navy protected the trade of all nations rather than to give Britain a monopoly (which is what Portugal had done on the Indian Ocean in the 16th century). Britain acted as the world’s policeman as she could, no one else could, and she benefited from there being a world policeman. Capitalism has a naturally pacifistic bias, if a business does extensive trade with a country that business has a strong direct interest in avoiding war with that country. For example Apple don’t want a war with china as they manufacture iphones in China.

727

Brett Dunbar 12.30.14 at 3:36 pm

Economics wasn’t the primary reason for the partition of Africa, nationalism was, imperialism was a form of nationalism. By that point it was obvious that acquiring, at best, a bunch of iron age peasants and herdsmen wasn’t going to provide any real pay-off unless you were prepared to act with unconscionable savagery. The Empires looked impressive on the map which pleased the public ego, and that seems to have been the main motive.

A few individuals did do it for personal benefit Cecil Rhodes established protectorates in order to mine in what became Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). While Leopold II of Belgium established his personal rule over the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and extracted profits by means so brutal they appalled the other colonial powers who eventually pressured Belgium into annexing the Congo in 1908.

728

Anarcissie 12.30.14 at 4:05 pm

I don’t see the great difference between seeking power over people (political motivation) and power over things (economic motivation). One seems to shade off into the other pretty smoothly.

In the case of imperialism, predators must not only take power over other people and other people’s stuff, but defend themselves from other predators and preempt them when possible (for example, the Great Game).

729

Plume 12.30.14 at 5:26 pm

Anarcissie @728,

Concise and true.

Simply taking power over people, if there is no economic gain attached, can mean taking on debt. Mass debt more often than not. Eventually, it proves far too expensive if it’s just a matter of control over people. There must be economic benefit or it can’t be sustained. Given that this has occurred and recurred for thousands of years, it’s not logical to assume power over people occurs without profit.

In a sense, it’s like a car and engine. Politics is the car; economics is the engine. The driver is the ruling class. Under capitalism, the ruling class is the financial elite. In Feudal times, that was not necessarily the case, though the aristocracy was usually the wealth holder. The aristocracy might be land rich and cash poor, which also was often a driver for conquests beyond its domain.

Capitalism is unique in that it no longer is tied to land. It’s the ultimate in portable, exportable economics. That also means empire expansion is far easier, because it doesn’t require actually taking over new lands and holding them. It can extend its empire via commercial interests alone.

730

Brett Dunbar 12.30.14 at 5:36 pm

The difference is between wanting to have an asset for the sake of what it can get you and wanting to have something for its own sake. Colonies were largely not acquired for the sake of them bringing in some material benefit, they were mostly acquired for the sake of having colonies. Even the having power over people wasn’t really the point, at times merely having a largely nominal acceptance of your authority sufficed as a protectorate looked just as good on the map as direct rule while not costing anything like as much.

731

Plume 12.30.14 at 5:44 pm

Brett,

You really do have a childish view of things. The British were a benign hegemon? Seriously? You completely ignored all the proof provided above regarding their rule, their horrifically oppressive rule in their colonies — especially India and Ireland, but not limited to either.

And, again, colonial powers could not afford to keep token colonies just for show. It was too expensive if they were not also reaping motherloads of natural resources along with that. Mineral wealth, plant, “exotic” food, spice, herbs, rubber, gold, silver, diamonds, assorted gems, etc. etc. Colonial empires couldn’t have lasted as long as they did if not for the raping and pillaging. They would have bankrupted themselves early on in the absence of great profits.

732

Anarcissie 12.30.14 at 6:19 pm

Brett Dunbar 12.30.14 at 5:36 pm @ 730:
‘The difference is between wanting to have an asset for the sake of what it can get you and wanting to have something for its own sake. …

Humans, like most other living organisms, are willful beings who desire power so that they can work their will, primarily to survive and reproduce. The drive to have and get power must be so deep one could call it primordial. To have power, they must acquire energy, that is, eat. To eat they must have more power than the things eaten. There’s your politics and your economics. It is not hard to find these themes in the British Colonial Office.

733

LFC 12.30.14 at 6:31 pm

b mcmanus
Arrighi ed, Resurgence of East Asia, though I doubt your sincerity, you’re still just stalking and trolling

Since when does asking someone for a cite constitute “stalking and trolling”?

You seem to think it’s perfectly ok to recite what you’re reading in comments threads without giving the titles of the books in question. Almost as if you’re afraid someone might actually be interested enough to want to know the title.

734

LFC 12.30.14 at 6:37 pm

I have to conclude that you consider any disagreement with you, or any questions to you, to be trolling. For reasons not entirely clear, you seem to make exceptions for certain people like B. Wilder and W. Timberman. But almost anyone else who asks you something or takes issue with you, you seem to treat like a piece of shit.

735

mattski 12.30.14 at 6:37 pm

The drive to have and get power must be so deep one could call it primordial.

I get a lot of flak here at CT for talking about ‘human nature’!

736

mattski 12.30.14 at 6:41 pm

But almost anyone else who asks you something or takes issue with you, you seem to treat like a piece of shit.

mcmanus, to me, is an archetype. The person who takes refuge in books & ideology about human dignity and equality because he is incapable of practicing such values in real life.

737

Plume 12.30.14 at 7:00 pm

@732

Humans, like most other living organisms, are willful beings who desire power so that they can work their will, primarily to survive and reproduce. The drive to have and get power must be so deep one could call it primordial. To have power, they must acquire energy, that is, eat. To eat they must have more power than the things eaten. There’s your politics and your economics. It is not hard to find these themes in the British Colonial Office.

I think that’s taking Nietzsche too far. And Nietzsche was really talking about a small percentage of the population. The evidence from history shows us that this lust for power and control isn’t “primordial” at all, except for a tiny percentage of the population — the Caesars, Ghengis Khans and Napoleans among us, along with modern equivalents in the business world. Basically, sociopaths. In order to amass that kind of power and control, one has to suppress one’s moral compass, or not have it in the first place. Most of us have it. Most of us don’t suppress it. At least not enough for empire.

Recent science points to far more common traits among humans, like empathy and the innate desire to share things equally. We are natural small “c” communists, as studies in Equality Bias show. And, as David Graeber’s book Debt reminded us, our family structures, our interactions with neighbors, our cooperative actions at work all demonstrate that small c communism.

Tossing off conventional wisdom about our supposed (species wide) lust for power has always been nonsense, and just what the ruling class wants us to believe. It’s their way of normalizing their own predatory behavior. If we all assume it’s normal for all of us, instead of just for a small percentage, it’s much harder for us to be critical, rebel against it or seek alternatives.

738

Anarcissie 12.30.14 at 7:14 pm

Plume 12.30.14 at 7:00 pm @ 737:
‘… Tossing off conventional wisdom about our supposed (species wide) lust for power has always been nonsense, and just what the ruling class wants us to believe. It’s their way of normalizing their own predatory behavior. If we all assume it’s normal for all of us, instead of just for a small percentage, it’s much harder for us to be critical, rebel against it or seek alternatives.’

But when we’re talking about the British Colonial Office and similar enterprises, we’re talking about the elites.

Humans certainly have other drives and motivations, but I must say as one of them and an observer of others, one often sees the drive for power peeking out behind professions of solidarity, sympathy, and community — a devil I think it is well to recognize, keep an eye on, and give respect when due.

739

DME 12.30.14 at 7:22 pm

Plume has covered the ‘rape and pillage’ aspect of colonialism. Another frequently cited economic benefit for the colonizing country is that of securing markets for its manufactured products. Thus, one can speculate about how England’s textile manufacturers might have made out without a captured market in, say, India.

740

Plume 12.30.14 at 7:28 pm

@738,

I misread you then. I thought you were speaking in general terms about all humans.

As for your last comment. Definitely. We definitely need to be vigilant. And, yes, this little devil can rear its ugly head up in strange ways indeed. Which is why I think we have the worst possible economic system in place. It encourages rapacious behavior and rewards it. It makes pretty much everything all about economic gain . . . which is yet one more reason why it’s truly bonkers for some to wish away economic motives.

Capitalism follows us everywhere, as Norman Mailer said in the pages of Dissent in the 1950s. We’re socialized into believing we must compete and fight over resources and this is “good” and greed is “good” and we’re all supposed to be mass consumers and alpha strivers to beat the Joneses.

I have no doubt that if the message were different — one of cooperation instead of competition and struggle — and the economic system was based on that . . . . we’d feel quite different about “human nature” and what it means.

As in, most of what we believe about it is a social construct to begin with, ironically. And the rapaciousness of the current economic system reinforces that narrative. This can be changed.

741

stevenjohnson 12.30.14 at 7:33 pm

Neither an innate lust for power and wealth, nor an innate empathy for others have any direct relationship to the kinds of societies humanity can create. To a first approximation, it is the institution or culture that creates the role for an individual, for which they rationalize their behavior as best they can. Both notions are like thinking armies are an outgrowth of the individual soldier’s bravery, or lack of it.

Capitalists are not capitalists because they are greedy, they are greedy. Capitalists are greedy because that’s what it takes to become and remain a capitalist, and if they aren’t up to it personally, they don’t change the nature of capitalists precisely because they don’t stay around. And similarly there’s no reason to think that people can be expected to act like wild dogs when acting like a wild dog is not how you get along in a socialist society. If they can, people tend to act as they were taught. Nobody in the US today is amazed that the man of the house no longer breeds his female slaves. They’re not even shocked that grave robbers seem to have disappeared from the land.

(And the threat posed by genuinely mentally ill people is amenable to treatment.)

742

Brett Dunbar 12.30.14 at 7:43 pm

Britain was pretty benign as these things go. Britain despite an near total dominance of the oceans didn’t attempt to monopolise long range trade and extract monopoly rents. Indeed they provided protection to shipping of all nations. This is in marked contrast to how the Portuguese had acted on the Indian Ocean in the 16th century. Almost the first thing they did on establishing a route to the Indian Ocean was use military force and their ships much better combat capabilities to seize control of existing trade routes and extract monopoly rents.

743

Plume 12.30.14 at 7:59 pm

Brett,

Try something for once. Just one time. Supply some evidence for your assertions. Link to a reputable article that you believe backs your position, say, on how benign the British were as hegemons.

Instead of just making the assertion, please provide some backup.

744

Brett Bellmore 12.30.14 at 8:06 pm

Subscripts. I demand subscripts. BrettD, BrettB. My name is rare enough that I’m not used to having people say, “Brett, you idiot…” and not be referring to me.

745

DME 12.30.14 at 9:14 pm

An effective way to introduce Marx’ analyses to newbies might be to organize the course material around currently pressing circumstances.  For example, one could task her students to examine the question: why is there so much money to be made in non-productive enterprises under modern capitalism seemingly contradicting Marx’ prediction that industrial capitalists would dominate all sectors of society?  Introduce readings from Theories of Surplus Value and Capital Vol III.  Showing where the analyses winds up might give interested students some motivation to work through the earlier volumes. Or, alternatively, one could ask for an examination of suicide in developing countries as a way to introduce the concept of alienation.

Look for hooks that might inspire further investigation.

746

Brett Dunbar 12.30.14 at 9:33 pm

I have cited a specific example twice. Britain not abusing its naval dominance to establish a monopoly on trade. Britain chose not to exact monopoly rent when in a position to do so.

Paul Kennedy discusses it in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. He also notes that Britain dismantled its empire largely peacefully

747

Plume 12.31.14 at 3:45 am

Paul Kennedy? Famous conservative apologist for empire Paul Kennedy? Please.

And a decision not to exact certain monopoly rights, if that indeed happened, does not support your claim that the great powers (or Britain in particular) were benign, or that they didn’t rape and pillage. That decision was largely a nod to fellow great powers, and meant virtually nothing to the colonies, to the people in them and their oppression at the hands of the colonizers.

One can decide not to seek monopoly rents and still commit barbaric acts in their respective colonies.

Come on, Brett. You can do better than that.

748

Brett Dunbar 12.31.14 at 10:28 am

Plume has just demonstrated his fanaticism, presented with a fairly clear example of Britain choosing not to take advantage of military dominance he resorts to irrelevant quibbling. I wasn’t discussing the other Great Powers just Britain which had an overwhelming naval dominance for somewhat over a century and didn’t abuse this monopoly. Britain spent sizeable resources suppressing piracy and destroying the slave trade, for example bullying other states into agreeing to extend the definition of piracy to include slave trading.

Benign means relatively harmless, it can simply mean less harmful that the alternatives. It doesn’t mean harmless.

749

Brett Dunbar 12.31.14 at 12:40 pm

I think you think when I say benign (fairly harmless) I mean benevolent (beneficial). I don’t.

750

Brett Dunbar 12.31.14 at 12:55 pm

The colonial office was actually pretty reluctant to acquire formal control, as that cost money they didn’t really have. They accepted Rhode’s protectorates in southern Africa only after he was able to convince them it wouldn’t cost them anything. The policing and other expenses could be financed from mining and other business activities.

The effects of colonial rule should be looked at in comparison to the available alternatives. In some cases the colonial authorities were a marked improvement on what they replaced. The Spanish were a major improvement of the Aztecs. Whatever else they did they didn’t ritually slaughter and eat thousands of people every year.

751

Plume 12.31.14 at 1:49 pm

Brett,

Interesting. So “fanaticism” means pointing out absurdities and weak arguments now. Um, okay. You have a big problem with the English language.

“Benign” doesn’t mean what you say it means, either. Unless you’re using it in a medical situation. You could stretch the meaning and use it as in 3b, but that’s not it’s usual meaning when applied to people.

Full Definition of BENIGN
1: of a gentle disposition : gracious
2:
a : showing kindness and gentleness
b : favorable, wholesome

3
a : of a mild type or character that does not threaten health or life; especially : not becoming cancerous

b : having no significant effect : harmless

752

Plume 12.31.14 at 1:55 pm

Excellent article in Jacobin, by Sam Gindin, co-author of the seminal The Making of Global Capitalism (with Leo Panitch).

It’s a review of sorts of Naomi Klein’s work, but also a chance for him to outline the need to go further. Capitalism IS the enemy in so many ways, especially when it comes to the environment.

When History Knocks

In characteristically accessible language, Klein summarizes the alarming scientific consensus on climate change. But the significance of This Changes Everything doesn’t lie in Klein’s detailed and passionate description of the urgency of the environmental crisis. Rather, its importance lies in Klein’s determination to demonstrate that changing our relationship to nature is inseparable from changing our relationship to each other — by “transforming our economic system” (I’ll return later to ambiguities in how this is interpreted).
. . . .

The sheer scale of the problem necessitates a politics that can take on capitalism. We must do away with any notions, Klein asserts, that the environmental crisis can be contained and eventually rolled back through policy tinkering (though addressing symptoms is necessary); technical fixes (though sensible technological advances should be vigorously pursued); or market-based solutions (no qualification necessary — it’s silly to expect the market to solve problems it was instrumental in creating). Something far more comprehensive is required.

753

Plume 12.31.14 at 1:57 pm

Here’s the link for the article. Again, I wish we could preview our comments, and edit them afterward.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/naomi-klein-capitalism/

754

Brett Dunbar 12.31.14 at 3:14 pm

You accusing someone else of weak arguments? That’s rich. You’ve asserted that economics is a zero sum game. Which is obviously ridiculous.

You constantly attribute all the ills of the world to capitalism. Even where that is obviously ridiculous. Capitalism isn’t anti democratic, indeed all democracies are capitalist. You constantly assert a relationship between slavery and capitalism that is almost the exact opposite of reality. You tend to attribute to capitalism things like imperialism which are mostly offshoots of nationalism.

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Brett Dunbar 12.31.14 at 3:34 pm

Klein is wrong, the market can solve problems that the market caused. Pollution is normally an externality, which markets are not good at dealing with. An effective method of dealing with pollutants is to use a tax or tradeable permit regime to price in the externality, you make doing something more expensive and that creates an incentive to do less of it. This approach was used to limit and then progressively eliminate CFCs and to dramatically reduce emissions of SO2. It is currently being used to reduce HCFCs with the intent of eliminating them. In principal there is no reason that it wouldn’t work with CO2. The problem has been getting agreement actually do it. Direct centrally imposed regulation usually results in a far higher cost for any given reduction in emissions as a market will tend to get the reductions at the place they are most efficient.

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Plume 12.31.14 at 3:42 pm

Brett,

Economics is obviously a zero sum game, and I proved that with actual data. Something you seem seriously allergic to.

And, no, I’ve never, ever attributed all the ills of the world to capitalism. Just the ills it’s responsible for.

And, yes, capitalism is anti-democratic. What is the structure of a capitalist business? It’s autocratic and top down. There is no democracy within the workplace or throughout the economy as a whole. And the richer the business owner, the more power he or she has in that marketplace. Their autocracy grows. There is no democratic process of shared power or shared decision-making. And the richer the business owner, the more influence they have on our political system as well. The richest own that political system, and politicians do their bidding. The non-rich are pretty much ignored.

As for slavery and capitalism. Again, I gave you all kinds of proof of that extremely close link. It’s not my problem that you ignore the evidence. That’s on you. Your ideological blinders block all confrontation with reality.

And, finally. Imperialism comes in many forms. Capitalism is one of those forms. And its structure is revolutionary in that it isn’t necessarily tied to land. It’s portable, exportable, even virtual. Which is perfect for any imperialist venture. There has never been a better fit, as far as economic systems go. Imperialism and capitalism are kissing cousins, and the latter’s Grow or Die imperative keeps them kissing.

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Anarcissie 12.31.14 at 3:53 pm

Brett Dunbar 12.31.14 at 12:55 pm @ 750 — The Spanish did burn a lot of people at the stake, a rather unpleasant way to die. It is true they did not then eat those they had char-broiled (as far as I know), but the benefits of this distinction may have been lost on their victims.

Perhaps the effects of European colonialism can also be compared favorably with the behavior of the giant squid. It does not seem like much of a compliment.

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J Thomas 12.31.14 at 4:46 pm

#756 Plume

Economics is obviously a zero sum game, and I proved that with actual data.

Could you show us the actual data again? I must have missed it.

To my way of thinking, the Depression resulted in a lot of people who wanted to work, not having any opportunity to make stuff. There was less stuff made than there would otherwise be. That was economics, at the time a negative-sum game, producing less stuff than before.

Similarly with 2008. Economics resulted in less stuff getting made compared to before or after. A negative-sum game.

If we always had the same amount of stuff independent of economics, and economics just decided who got it, then it would be zero-sum. I don’t think that’s true.

And, yes, capitalism is anti-democratic.

Well, sure. Capitalists don’t *support* democracy. They want democracy to support them. “You don’t get to put in a dictator who hangs us unless we give him lots of stuff. We’ve got *democracy* which protects us from dictators and also from the mob of disorganized pissants.”

As for slavery and capitalism. Again, I gave you all kinds of proof of that extremely close link.

Sure, capitalism used slavery while it was useful. We had slavery before capitalism unless your idea of capitalism is extremely broad. China had slavery before they had bureaucracy. If you believe Gilgamish, Ur had slavery very early. (They did have markets. Men bought wives in the market, for example. If you think markets are all there is to capitalism then….)

Slaves were, after all, capital. But later, capitalists decided on more efficient ways to exploit labor, and gave up slavery.

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Plume 12.31.14 at 5:01 pm

J Thomas,

The data on inequality proves that. The richest 20% of the population consuming 85% of all resources proves that. The richest 400 Americans holding more wealth than the bottom 60% combined proves that. The richest 85 people on the planet holding more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion proves that. The top 1% taking in nearly a quarter of all income proves that. And math proves that. If the top takes in nearly a quarter, that’s income no longer available to the bottom 99%.

Put ten apples on the table. If the rich guy takes six, you have four left. You don’t, as conservatives seem to believe, still have ten apples there, because capitalism!!

Money is finite. Our time on the planet is finite. Our working day is finite. Our natural resources are finite. An individual business’s payroll is finite. If you pay your CEO 50% of that total payroll, you have 50% leftover for the rest of the workforce. It’s zero sum. You can’t pay your CEO 50% of total payroll and still have 75% or 150% leftover for your workers. And, if you pay your CEO 25%, you have more to pay your workers, etc. etc. The more ownership/executives take, the less is left over for workers — unless you want to go beyond 100% by borrowing, and that, of course, is finite, too. No business has an unlimited credit card, and no country has an unlimited money supply.

Time, money, resources . . . all of it. If one person has more of something, others must have less. Zero sum. Unless you believe in magic, alchemy, cornucopias, etc. etc.

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J Thomas 12.31.14 at 5:20 pm

$759 Plume

Money is finite. Our time on the planet is finite. Our working day is finite. Our natural resources are finite. An individual business’s payroll is finite.

Money is finite because we regulate it to be so. We could print all the money we wanted if we wanted to.

Working time is finite, and unemployment is time that could be put to productive use but isn’t. The result is less production. To the extent that capitalism requires unemployment to motivate the employees who have jobs, capitalism results in less production than could be made by an alternative system that did not have that limitation.

Natural resources are finite, but in most cases we have not reached the limit.

individual businesses have limits, but they do more than just split up the profits. If all that a business did was to get a fixed income and decide how to split it up, then it would be zero-sum. But businesses do a lot of things that affect how much money they get. They can do things that bring in more money. They can take gambles that sometimes result in less money after all. So it is not zero-sum.